May 11, 2018

Top Dems: Pruitt Still Isn’t Complying With Federal Spending Laws

Udall, Carper, McCollum, DeFazio demand EPA Administrator follow the law and report to Congress on Privacy Booth violation, other office expenses

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) and U.S. Representatives Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is still failing to comply with federal spending laws, weeks after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the EPA violated the law by purchasing a $43,000 phone both for Pruitt’s office and hiding the purchase from Congress. The lawmakers wrote that the EPA has for weeks failed to report the violation to Congress as required under the Antideficiency Act – which requires that such reporting be done “immediately” – and that the agency has failed to fulfill related notification requirements for other expenditures to furnish or redecorate Pruitt’s office, which will extend for the duration of his tenure at EPA.

Udall, Carper, McCollum and DeFazio demanded that Pruitt immediately comply with the law by reporting the violations and providing the required information to Congress. The lawmakers each hold leadership positions on committees tasked with overseeing EPA programs and spending, and said that the required information is necessary to enable the committees to conduct proper oversight.

“On April 16, 2018, the GAO issued a legal opinion that found that the Environmental Protection Agency EPA violated federal law when the agency obligated federal funds totaling $43,238.68 on the installation of a soundproof privacy booth in the EPA Administrator’s office,” the lawmakers wrote. “These obligations violated both the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits agencies from incurring obligations in excess of legally available amounts, and section 710 of Division E of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017 (Public Law 115-31), which requires advance notification to the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate for obligations or expenditures in excess of $5,000 to furnish or redecorate the office of the head of an agency.”

“Several weeks have passed, yet EPA has not transmitted the statutorily-required Antideficiency Act report regarding this violation, nor has the agency fulfilled related notification requirements regarding other expenditures made to furnish or redecorate your office, such as biometric locks and a ‘Captain’s Desk,’” the lawmakers continued. “We are writing to urge you to immediately comply with the law by providing Congress and the GAO all statutorily-required information to enable our Committees to conduct proper oversight of these expenditures of taxpayer dollars. Specifically, following a finding of a violation by GAO, the Antideficiency Act requires the head of the agency responsible for such violation to ‘immediately’ report such violation to Congress, the President, and the Comptroller General.”

In addition, the lawmakers noted that EPA was legally obligated to report expenditures for furnishing or redecoration as soon as such amounts exceeded a cumulative total of $5,000. Based on publicly-available documents, Pruitt reached the $5,000 threshold on redecoration and furnishing early on in his tenure, with expenditures on:

• Biometric locks for $3,389.50
• Captain’s Standing Desk for $2,963.05
• Sit-to-Stand Table for $2,514.73
• Executive Desk Refurnishing for $2,075
• Portraits (two) for $1,200

None of these expenditures have been reported to Congress, the lawmakers wrote. Further, they noted that GAO has advised EPA that all additional expenditures must be reported for the duration of Pruitt’s tenure at the EPA.

The full text of Udall, Carper, McCollum, and DeFazio’s letter is available below and here.

Dear Administrator Pruitt:

On April 16, 2018, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a legal opinion that found that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) violated federal law when the agency obligated federal funds totaling $43,238.68 on the installation of a soundproof privacy booth in the EPA Administrator’s office. These obligations violated both the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits agencies from incurring obligations in excess of legally available amounts, and section 710 of Division E of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017 (Public Law 115-31), which requires advance notification to the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate for obligations or expenditures in excess of $5,000 to furnish or redecorate the office of the head of an agency.

Several weeks have passed, yet EPA has not transmitted the statutorily-required Antideficiency Act report regarding this violation, nor has the agency fulfilled related notification requirements regarding other expenditures made to furnish or redecorate your office, such as biometric locks and a “Captain’s Desk”. We are writing to urge you to immediately comply with the law by providing Congress and the GAO all statutorily-required information to enable our Committees to conduct proper oversight of these expenditures of taxpayer dollars.

Specifically, following a finding of a violation by GAO, the Antideficiency Act requires the head of the agency responsible for such violation to “immediately” report such violation to Congress, the President, and the Comptroller General. OMB Circular A-11, which provides guidance regarding federal financial controls and budget execution, states that such reports must contain specific detail related to the violation, including all facts pertaining to the violation and any actions planned and taken to prevent recurrence of the same type of violation.

In our leadership positions on the Congressional committees charged with overseeing EPA programs and spending, it is critical for us to examine what management and budgetary failures caused this violation and how EPA plans to remedy such failures. We urge you to comply with the statutory requirement to “immediately” transmit such notifications.

Further, we note that on April 25, 2018, EPA’s Chief Financial Officer transmitted a notification to the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate that retroactively fulfilled the notification requirement related solely to the privacy booth. We appreciate that notification; however, it was incomplete.

The notification requirement in section 710 applies to all such obligations or expenditures made in excess of $5,000 “[d]uring the period in which the head of any department or agency, or any other officer or civilian employee of the Federal Government appointed by the President of the United States, holds office”. As such, EPA was legally obligated to report all such obligations and expenditures as soon as such amounts exceeded a cumulative total of $5,000 since you took office on February 17, 2017. Our staff have learned that GAO communicated this cumulative requirement to EPA’s Office of General Counsel after GAO completed its examination of the obligations for the privacy booth.

Based on publicly-available documents and the magnitude of the expenditures on the privacy booth, it is clear that the cumulative $5,000 threshold was reached early in your tenure at EPA. In fact, we note that publicly-available documents indicate that several large expenditures have been made that either would have contributed to triggering the $5,000 threshold or should have been immediately reported if the threshold was already met. None of these expenditures have been reported to the Appropriations Committees, including:

• Biometric locks for $3,389.50
• Captain’s Standing Desk for $2,963.05
• Sit-to-Stand Table for $2,514.73
• Executive Desk Refurnishing for $2,075
• Portraits (two) for $1,200

We urge you to fully comply with section 710 by resubmitting the April 25, 2018 notification with corrected data detailing each and every expenditure made in excess of the $5,000 threshold. In addition, given EPA’s lack of transparency in this area, we request that you submit detailed data and descriptions of all obligations and expenditures comprising the first $5,000 of spending prior to the section 710 threshold being met. Finally, we urge you to ensure that all additional obligations and expenditures related to the Administrator’s office are reported to the Appropriations Committees throughout the entirety of your tenure at EPA, as required by law.

Given your public statements regarding the importance of the “rule of law”, we expect you should appreciate the importance of complying with these statutory requirements related to EPA’s expenditures of taxpayer dollars. We expect your prompt compliance.
Sincerely,