September 21, 2017

Senator Hassan Joins Colleagues Urging Office of Management and Budget to Investigate Taxpayer-Funded Travel for Executive Branch Officials

WASHINGTON – Senator Maggie Hassan joined 15 of her colleagues in a letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) following reports that a number of high-ranking officials in the Trump Administration are incurring excessive travel costs. According to a September 19th POLITICO report, at least three members of the Cabinet have used taxpayer funds to charter expensive private airplanes or incurred excessive travel costs that signal a culture of wasteful spending.

“Taxpayers appear to be footing the bill for extraordinary travel expenses using government resources and providing Cabinet officials with private aircraft at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars where commercial flights are readily available,” the Senators wrote. “These incidents give us concern that there is a culture of wasteful spending on travel in the Trump Administration…It is our duty to provide oversight and ensure that taxpayer money is spent responsibly, without waste, fraud, or abuse.”

The letter urges OMB Director Mick Mulvaney to provide information on policies governing when Cabinet appointees are entitled to travel by private chartered aircraft and explain the steps OMB is taking to ensure federal agencies comply with existing rules and regulations governing official government travel.

The Federal Travel Regulation (FTR) requires that all federal agencies make travel arrangements in the most cost-effective manner, and requires that federal employees, including Cabinet appointees, travel by “common carrier,” such as a commercial airline, whenever possible. However, recent news reports suggest that executive branch officials including Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, have incurred excessive travel costs at taxpayer expense, including chartering private aircraft, while traveling on official business.

Senator Hassan issued a statement earlier this week following reports that HHS Secretary Tom Price took five taxpayer-funded private jet trips last week.

Full text of the letter can be found below: 

September 21, 2017

The Honorable Mick Mulvaney

Director

Office of Management and Budget

725 17th Street NW

Washington, DC 20503

Dear Director Mulvaney:

We are writing to gain a better understanding of the current policies and oversight mechanisms governing official travel by Cabinet appointees and other high-ranking federal officials.  As we perform our obligation to serve as responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars, we are concerned by reports that a number of current high-ranking appointees, including Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, may be incurring excessive travel costs.  Taxpayers appear to be footing the bill for extraordinary travel expenses using government resources and providing Cabinet officials with private aircraft at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars where commercial flights are readily available.  These incidents give us concern that there is a culture of wasteful spending on travel in the Trump Administration.

The Federal Travel Regulation (FTR) stipulates that all federal agencies “must select the method most advantageous to the Government, when cost and other factors are considered.”  Further, the FTR states that travel by common carrier, such as a commercial airline, “is presumed to be the most advantageous method of transportation and must be used when reasonably available.”  However, recent news reports suggest that Secretary Price has demonstrated a pattern of chartering private aircraft to conduct official government business at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars when commercial flights or other, more economical means of travel appear to be readily available. Existing travel regulations reflect the general principle that instead of taking advantage of the public trust, public servants should always strive to perform their duties in the best interest of the American taxpayer. 

The Inspectors General for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Treasury have already announced investigations into the travel expenses incurred by Administrator Pruitt and Secretary Mnuchin, respectively.  In order for Congress to better understand the current state of compliance with federal statutes and regulations, we respectfully ask for answers to the following questions on or before October 6, 2017:

  1. Who in the government is entitled to travel by private chartered aircraft, and under what circumstances?
  2. Please provide an accounting of the use of private chartered aircraft by Cabinet officials over the last three administrations.
  3. What policies and procedures are in place regarding the use of military aircraft by Cabinet appointees and reimbursement to the Department of Defense (DoD) for the cost of operating these aircraft?
  4. What policies and procedures govern interagency reimbursement for official and non-official travel by Cabinet appointees?
  5. What is the extent of the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) oversight of Cabinet-level travel?
  6. Has OMB promulgated any policies, circulars, memoranda, or other guidance since January 20, 2017, regarding official travel by members of the Cabinet? If so, please provide a copy of each of these documents.
  7. OMB Memorandum M-12-12, issued on May 12, 2012 pursuant to Executive Order 13589, required the DoD and the General Services Administration, in consultation with OMB, to undertake a review of existing policies and regulations to “ensure that, whenever practicable, Federal employees arrange airfare in a manner that results in the lowest price available when traveling on domestic flights.”  Has OMB issued any policies or guidance since that time to supersede this stated goal of ensuring the lowest cost to the taxpayer for travel expenses?

It is our duty to provide oversight and ensure that taxpayer money is spent responsibly, without waste, fraud, or abuse.  We thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.