Republicans, particularly Trump, love to ramble endlessly about all of the social safety network programs the country supposedly can’t afford, branding it “entitlement reform” to sell their agenda to an impressionable base.
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With each passing day under the reign of Trump, the only people who appear to be entitled are the members of his cabinet. None so much as the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) head Scott Pruitt who, in addition to everything else he has wasted taxpayer dollars on, reportedly spent at least $9,600 to decorate his personal office with a combination of Smithsonian artwork and customized pieces, so says an internal document acquired by The Hill.
According to the document, the EPA paid the Smithsonian Institution $1,950 for labor and delivery charges for the three pieces chosen to adorn his suite. 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 for labor and delivery only.
The Smithsonian did not provide comment to The Hill but did tell New Republic earlier this year that renting items is a common practice for federal agencies and presidents.
However, the labor fees coupled with Pruitt’s other expenses appear to surpass the $5,000 limit set by Congress for redecoration costs. When the costs exceed that amount, an agency must notify lawmakers first.
Outside of the Smithsonian’s fee, Pruitt spent over $2,500 to frame various mementos including a photo featuring Pruitt with President Trump, and an American flag.
The document further confirms earlier reports the EPA paid $2,963 for a standing “captain’s” desk and another $2,075 to refurbish a separate office desk for Pruitt.
The costs were tallied in an email sent to an EPA staffer simply labeled “expenses.”
Considering how great an advocate Pruitt was for Trump’s tax scam, one would think Pruitt possesses a wealth of knowledge as to what constitutes an “expense” in the eyes of the IRS. Typically, they do not include vanity purchases made for personal enjoyment – especially when the money used to make said purchases comes from the federal government.
As is commonplace in the Trump administration, EPA spokesman John Wilcox defended the expenditures, citing technicalities supporting his claim that the pieces do not count as “costs” to furnish Pruitt’s office.
Wilcox explained that the refurbished desk was offered to Pruitt by the Office of Administration and Resources Management which fixed it up themselves. The $1,200 painting and the $916.15 American flag were placed in a “lobby” so they aren’t technically for Pruitt’s office, even though Wilcox never specified whether the lobby was part of Pruitt’s office suite. The two framed certificates from Pruitt’s confirmation are a standard expenditure for EPA heads, he said.
Once those costs are deducted from the grand total, the remodel falls just below the $5,000 limit.
“Every cabinet official gets $5,000 to furnish their office and we have spent $4,984.06,” Wilcox gloated.
Whether they were specifically for his office or not, they still cost the taxpayers money. More than that, initial reports of Pruitt’s overspending were detailed to Democratic congressional staff in April by former EPA aide turned whistleblower Kevin Chmielewski.
The Hill interviewed Chmielewski for clarity on what he witnessed as an aide to Pruitt. He was reportedly personally responsible for getting the various items framed to Pruitt’s liking. Chmielewski indicated that specifically, the photo of Pruitt and Trump was supposed to be paid out of Pruitt’s pocket – a promise he never kept:
“The framed photo of himself was supposed to be paid out of his pocket with 100 percent certainty. 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.
Five top Democrats penned a scathing letter to Pruitt and copied Trump relaying the details Chmielewski provided, noting Pruitt had spent “well beyond the $5,000 allowed by law to decorate [his] 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.”
Ah, yes, the soundproof booth because everyone in Trump’s inner circle is so corrupt even the most mundane of phone calls might be subject to spying.
In April, the Government Accountability Office ruled against the soundproof booth, saying that it violated the $5,000 price cap as the EPA failed to get prior congressional approval.
The fact that Pruitt still has a job is astounding, particularly when you consider the rest of the financial inquiries against him. Pruitt has cost the government roughly $3 million for 24 hour security detail, he raised wages for two of his friends after they left D.C. for Oklahoma, and insisted he must fly first-class to avoid ‘public scrutiny’ which was a fancy way of him saying, “I don’t want to be penalized for wasting your money.”
Unsurprisingly, Pruitt scapegoated the remnants of the Obama administration for overspending, insisting the EPA lacked the proper internal procedures to prevent overspending which have been fixed.
“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 croaked during his Senate hearing last week.
Let’s start to push our elected officials to focus on the real entitlement reform: these rich old white men who think that everything is just owed to them, who will happily watch people start from the privacy of a soundproof booth as the world burns.