By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House budget office said on Wednesday it was probing whether a $43,000 soundproof phone booth for Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt violated the law, while dozens of Democratic senators called for him to resign over allegations of ethics lapses.
Pruitt has been under fire for potential ethics lapses, including flying first class on airlines, excessive spending on security, and the rental of a room in a Washington condominium for $50 per night he was there.
Meghan Burris, an Office of Management and Budget spokeswoman, said her office was working with the EPA to review whether the approval of the privacy phone booth installed in Pruitt’s office was a potential violation of a law that prohibits federal agencies from incurring expenses in excess of funds that are available. The law is known as the Anti-Deficiency Act.
The EPA’s approval of the phone booth violated that law and another one requiring agencies to notify Congress when they obligate more than $5,000 in federal funds to make improvements in an office of a presidential appointee, the Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog unit, said on Monday.
Pruitt has said the phone booth is necessary for him to conduct official business. When asked about the OMB’s probe, Jahan Wilcox, an EPA spokesman, said his agency disagreed that spending on the booth required notification to Congress and that the agency is addressing the GAO’s concern.
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have criticized Pruitt over the allegations. On Wednesday, 38 Democratic U.S. senators and an independent who votes with them in the 100- member chamber introduced a resolution calling for Pruitt to resign.
Pruitt has “completely violated the trust of the American people and the standards of his office, with a list of ethical transgressions that grows longer by the day,” Senator Tom Udall said.
The Senate is controlled by Pruitt’s fellow Republicans. Although Republicans can defeat it, the resolution is symbolically important because it represents the most senators ever to call for a Cabinet member’s ouster in such a petition, its sponsors said.
More than 130 U.S. representatives also signed a companion resolution in the House of Representatives.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Jonathan Oatis)
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