White House budget office to investigate Pruitt’s soundproof booth

White House budget office to investigate Pruitt’s soundproof booth
© Greg Nash

The White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is planning to investigate the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to spend more than $43,000 for a soundproof booth for Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittZinke left some details off public calendar: report EPA watchdog faults ‘management weaknesses’ in Flint water crisis House completes first half of 2019 spending bills MORE.

OMB Director Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyOn The Money: Trump rips Fed over rate hikes | Dems fume as consumer agency pick refuses to discuss border policy | Senate panel clears Trump IRS nominee Trump pick to head watchdog agency is who consumers need Dems fume as Trump's consumer bureau pick refuses to discuss role in border policy MORE told lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee about the plans to probe the booth at a Wednesday hearing of the committee’s subpanel that oversees the OMB.

Mulvaney said that since the Government Accountability Office (GAO) ruled Monday that the spending on the booth was a violation of the Antideficiency Act, OMB will investigate.

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“We take the Antideficiency statute very, very seriously. And if they’ve been broken, we’ll follow the rules,” he told Rep. Mike QuigleyMichael (Mike) Bruce QuigleyDems unveil slate of measures to ratchet up pressure on Russia Hoyer calls on GOP to bring up election security amendment Hillicon Valley: California eyes tough net neutrality law | Trump taps chief for DHS tech research arm | Huawei hits back at US restrictions | Republican wants Google antitrust probe | Ex-cyber worker charged with trying to sell stolen tech MORE (Ill.), the subpanel’s top Democrat.

“We will enforce the law, and we’ll do so in a transparent fashion, Mr. Quigley. I’m not interested in covering for anybody else.”

Mulvaney said his office either had just started its investigation into the matter or will start it soon.

Congress gave the EPA a $5,000 annual cap for refurnishing or redecorating Pruitt’s office, and required the EPA to notify lawmakers before exceeding that cap.

GAO said that Pruitt’s soundproof booth counted toward that cap, and the agency did not notify Congress. Since the agency’s action violated an appropriations law, it also violated the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits agencies from spending money that has not been appropriated.

Mulvaney told lawmakers that the violation could possibly result in a criminal conviction, but it was not likely.

“Technically it’s a criminal law. I don’t think anybody has ever been charged criminally with a violation of the Antideficiency statute. But we would talk to the lawyers and figure out what the appropriate statutory steps are that we are supposed to take,” he said.

“Again, we’re going to be completely aboveboard on this one. I’m not any happier about it than you are,” Mulvaney told Quigley.

Pruitt has defended the booth as necessary to have secure communications, including with the White House, despite the EPA having an area dedicated to sensitive communications elsewhere in the headquarters building.

“It’s necessary for me to be able to do my job,” he told the House Energy and Commerce Committee in December.

The EPA must now write a memo to OMB, GAO and others explaining the violation. OMB is the main executive branch body responsible for Antideficiency Act compliance.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said Monday that the agency would follow the necessary procedures following the GAO report.

“EPA is addressing GAO’s concern, with regard to Congressional notification about this expense, and will be sending Congress the necessary information this week,” she said.