Saturday, March 22, 2014
Robert Meuller and Eric Holder
(photo: Department of Justice)
The U.S. Department of Justice’s top officials have been using government aircraft for personal trips that consumed nearly $8 million in taxpayer money.
This finding was uncovered and reported (pdf) by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which also found the agency in charge of reporting such trips wasn’t collecting the proper documentation.
Those using government planes for “non-mission” purposes included Attorney General (AG) Eric Holder and former FBI Director Robert Mueller. The 395 trips by Holder, Mueller and other officials cost $7.8 million.
The General Services Administration (GSA), which oversees such trips, was faulted by the GAO for not requiring the Justice Department to turn over the necessary paperwork.
GSA officials told the auditors that an exemption for intelligence agencies authorized them to skip getting the documentation, even in cases of unclassified personal travel. The GAO disagreed with the exemption, saying it violated guidelines established during the Clinton administration.
Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who asked the GAO to look into the matter, criticized the administration for its lack of transparency—something President Barack Obama promised there would be more of under his leadership.
“Secrecy of personal or nonmission trips taken at taxpayer expense only serves to create a distrust of the federal government,” Grassley said in a press release. “The GAO identified a significant gap that needs to be addressed to ensure transparency and verify that federal agencies are following current regulations.”
Whether flying for business or pleasure, the attorney general is required to take government jets for security reasons. However, the AG is also required to reimburse the Treasury for this expense if the travel is personal in nature.
The GAO recommended that the GSA ditch the exemption. That change was accepted by the GSA, which promised to start documenting such trips in its periodic reports on travel by senior federal officials.