The media has been busy looking into the travel arrangements and expenses of every official in the Trump administration and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was no exception. The press quickly thought they’d latched onto a winner on this one, with several breathless headlines grabbing all sorts of attention, such as this one from The Hill a few days ago. “Mnuchin’s military flights exceed $800K.”
They reported that, “flights on military aircraft since March have cost $800,000, according to a report from the department’s inspector general.” Most of the quotes came from the Treasury Department’s Office of the Inspector General. They cited questions about a disconnect between the standard of proof called for” by the Office of Management and Budget “and the actual amount of proof provided by Treasury. It was enough to give one the vapors.
One Washington Post writer even suggested we revisit the way Roman emperors dealt with officials misusing the travel budget. She cited Roman officials who were, “indifferent to the hardships created by their profligacy and oblivious to more productive uses for the scarce taxpayer resources they were gobbling up.”
I wonder how many of them will be revising their stories now that this news has come to light. (Government Executive, emphasis added)
Treasury Secretary Cleared of Criticism He Misused Flights on Military Transport
After weeks of media coverage suggesting he unnecessarily used military transport for travel, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday got a clean bill of health from the department’s inspector general.
Following a review of seven questioned flights that was twice-expanded in September, Treasury Inspector General Counsel Rich Delmar on Oct. 4 wrote to IG Eric Thorson he sees “no violation of law in these requests and uses. Getting approval from appropriate White House officials to designate the trips as White House Support Missions places them out of the purview of OMB Directive A-126 [issued in 1993] and otherwise applicable limitations in the Federal Travel Regulation,” Delmar wrote.
Yep, that’s the same Inspector General’s office that was asking all the questions which originally generated those overheated headlines. Oddly, I was flipping through a couple of cable news channels last night and this morning and haven’t heard a peep about this.
But that’s not to say that the questions weren’t warranted. Despite the partisan spin on the coverage, this is actually an example of both the media and the OIG doing their respective jobs. If government officials are wasting our money on flights which run afoul of the rules when cheaper and equally efficient options were available, they need to be called out, made to reimburse the money and very likely either apologize or lose their jobs.
But we might want to go one step further and ask whether or not these diligent media watchdogs were always so efficient in this task. Just for one example, you may have seen this week’s coverage of Obama administration travel habits at the Daily Caller.
Former heads of the Department of the Interior spent $971,643 chartering non-commercial flights over a six year period, according to documents obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar spent $586,196 on non-commercial flights over three years. Salazar took 48 such trips from 2010 to 2012, including flights on Interior Department-owned and chartered aircraft, according to travel records.
Salazar’s successor, former Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, took 33 trips on chartered flights from 2013 to 2016. Jewell’s flights cost $385,438, according to Interior Department records prepared for congressional investigators.
Wow. That was nearly a million dollars in charter flights just for the Interior Department under Barack Obama. I’ve been scratching my head, wracking my brain and Googling up a storm but it doesn’t seem as if anyone was asking these questions very often between 2009 and 2016. And considering all the attention given to the charter flights taken by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, that makes it particularly odd since the DC concludes that, “Zinke’s charter flight spending for 2017 is the lowest amount of any year since 2010.”
Sure, CNN has picked up on the story this week since it’s been shoved in everyone’s faces, but what about back in the day? All of the records are available if you ask for them, such as this travel report on one of Ken Salazar’s trips where he took non-commercial, DOI air service. But for some reason there doesn’t seem to be any news coverage of it from that era.
Funny old world, isn’t it?