Publication / The Hill
May 22, 2018
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Pruitt spent at least $9,600 on office decor, desks: email

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt spent at least $9,600 to decorate his personal office with Smithsonian artwork, a refurbished desk and other framed items, according to an internal document obtained by The Hill on Tuesday.

EPA paid $1,950 for labor and delivery charges on three pieces of artwork loaned from the Smithsonian Institution to Pruitt’s executive office suite and spent over $2,500 to frame items that included a photo of him with President Trump and an American flag. Additionally, the document confirms earlier reports that agency officials paid $2,963 for a standing “captain’s” desk and another $2,075 to refurbish another office desk for the administrator.

The costs were tallied in a chart emailed to an EPA staffer in the general counsel’s office last week that was labeled “expenses.”

While the Smithsonian doesn’t charge federal agencies to rent items, the costs for the three paintings — one by William Louis Sonntag Sr., the others being portraits of Founding Fathers John Marshall and James Monroe — were labelled as for labor and delivery.

Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas said the funds went to a company that handles and deliveries artwork for federal agencies, not to the museums that own the pieces. Federal agencies and presidents routinely borrow works of art from the Smithsonian.

However, the expenses listed for Pruitt appear to surpass the $5,000 limit set by Congress for redecoration costs. When the costs exceed that amount, an agency must notify lawmakers before authorizing the payment.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox defended the expenditures Tuesday and said that many of them do not count as costs to furnish Pruitt’s office.

The refurbished desk, Wilcox said, was offered to Pruitt by the Office of Administration and Resources Management, which fixed up the desk for Pruitt. The two framed certificates from Pruitt’s confirmation are a standard expenditure for EPA heads, Wilcox said, alluding that they were gifts. He also said one of the paintings, whose labor and care cost EPA $1,200, and the $916.15 American flag were hung in a “lobby.” Wilcox could not specify whether the lobby was part of Pruitt’s office suite.

After taking those out, Pruitt’s total office furnishing costs fall just below the $5,000 limit, according to Wilcox.

“Every cabinet official gets $5,000 to furnish their office and we have spent $4,984.06,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox additionally mentioned that Pruitt’s office had portraits of Abraham Lincoln and Henry Clay on loan from the National Gallery of Art and National Portrait Gallery, while the EPA breakdown of expenses obtained by The Hill did not include costs for those items.

Kevin Chmielewski, a former EPA aide turned whistleblower, detailed the artwork, desk and framed item expenses to Democratic congressional staff in an interview last month.

Five top Democrats leaders sent a letter to Pruitt and copied Trump saying Chmielewski said Pruitt spent “well beyond the $5,000 allowed by law to decorate your office, including refinishing an antique desk, purchasing an additional standing desk, paying leases for art on loan from the Smithsonian Institution, framing an 8×10 foot United States flag, and building a $43,000 soundproof booth.”

Speaking to The Hill Tuesday, Chmielewski said he was responsible for personally getting the various items framed for Pruitt’s office, adding Pruitt had promised at the time to reimburse EPA for the framed photo of him and Trump that included the pen Trump used to sign an executive order on environmental regulations.

“The framed photo of himself was supposed to be paid out of his pocket with 100 percent certainty,” Chmielewski said. “Here’s the irony of that, he’s going to want that after he leaves EPA. That’s why I thought it was no big deal he said that he’d pay for it.”

Chmielewski said both the captain’s desk and the framed flag were placed in the waiting area of Pruitt’s executive suite.

The Government Accountability Office ruled last month that another expense in Pruitt’s office, the construction of a $43,000 soundproof booth, broke the law that establishes the price cap because the agency failed to get prior congressional approval.

Pruitt has been under heavy scrutiny for his use of taxpayer money, including the around $3 million spent on his security detail and authorizing significant wage increases for two aides who moved to D.C. from Oklahoma, raises that were reversed amid public outcry.

Last week, lawmakers grilled Pruitt on his office expenses at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing. “As I look back on those decisions, I would not make the same decisions again,” he told senators.

He blamed the misspending on not having proper internal procedures in place and promised that they have since been changed.

“Some of the areas of criticism are, frankly, areas where processes at the agency were not properly instituted to prevent certain abuses from happening,” he said at the hearing.