The EPA chief's much mocked $43,000 "cone of silence" - a soundproof phone booth he ordered installed in his office - violated federal law governing how taxpayers' money could be spent, a new report said Monday.
The GAO-which is the federal government's independent watchdog-also found that the EPA allocated the funds in a way that violated a second federal law, the Antideficiency Act. "Accordingly, section 710 [of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act] applied to this obligation and EPA was required to notify the appropriations committees of its proposed obligation", Thomas Armstong, the GAO's General Counsel wrote in a letter to Democratic lawmakers on Monday.
The agency violated the law by using more than $5,000 of fiscal 2017 appropriated funds for an unintended goal without giving lawmakers advance notice, GAO investigators wrote in a report released Monday.
Pruitt has taken several security precautions that are now under scrutiny, including his frequent use of first-class flights to avoid hostile interactions with other travelers.
Pruitt told Congress in December he uses the booth for communications with the White House.
Among those who have received massive raises under that authority are two young aides to Pruitt he brought with him to EPA from Oklahoma, where he previously served as state attorney general. One of the employees secured two successive raises amounting to a 67.6 percent increase, worth $66,244, raising the salary to $164,200. Scheduling director Millian Hupp, 26, saw her salary jump to $114,590, with raises totaling more than $48,000. But Pruitt had told Fox News the week prior that he knew nothing about the raises, despite Jackson adding "for Scott Pruitt" after his signature on the forms, copies of which the OIG attached to its report. Agency lawyers have raised concerns that not all of them are being searched during Freedom of Information Act requests. Elkins said the interim alert was issued to notify Pruitt "of certain factual information".
Until this week, Barrasso has refrained from criticizing any of Pruitt's actions while in office, instead praising his deregulatory agenda.
But Ken Cook, president of the advocacy organization Environmental Working Group, said Pruitt needs to be more transparent about his operations.
The EPA has used the law to hire people in policy, public relations, scientific and other roles across the agency. "So the notion that I have to fly first class because I don't want people to be mean to me, you need to go into another line of work if you don't want people to be mean to you, like maybe a monk where you don't come in contact with anyone", Gowdy said.