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 PruittOvernight Energy: EPA moves to raise ethanol levels in gasoline | Dems look to counter White House climate council | Zinke cleared of allegations tied to special election EPA pushes forward plan to increase ethanol mix in gasoline Trump: The solitary executive MORE.

OMB Director Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyMulvaney poised to become permanent White House chief of staff: report Pentagon sends Congress list of projects that could lose funds to Trump's emergency declaration Trump: Media 'working overtime to blame me' for New Zealand attack 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 fear Trump is looking at presidential pardons Dems introduce bill requiring disclosure of guest logs from White House, Trump properties Alito, Kagan oppose cameras in Supreme Court 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.