Pete Buttigieg has flown around America at taxpayers' expense, but perhaps not always for the benefit of those to whom he is accountable.
The Transportation Department's internal watchdog announced Monday that it will soon audit the Biden cabinet official in an effort to determine whether the frequent flyer has used government planes to satisfy private whims and when cheaper alternatives were available.
This investigation comes as the result of efforts by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to determine whether Buttigieg has been flagrantly flaunting the rules for use of Federal Aviation Administration planes. Rubio noted he had been alerted to the potential of abuse by a Dec. 12 Fox News report.
The DOT Office of Inspector General announced in a letter Monday that it would be conducting "an audit to determine whether the Office of the Secretary complied with Federal regulations, policies, and procedures regarding executive travel on DOT aircraft."
Charles Ward, principal assistant inspector general for audits and evaluations at the DOT, noted, "Senator Marco Rubio requested that we determine whether the Secretary's use of Government aircraft for domestic and international travel complied with all applicable Federal regulations and DOT policies and procedures."
TheBlaze previously reported that Buttigieg, who has long decried the impact of oil and gas, has burned up a significant amount of fuel and cash crisscrossing the country using private jets.
As of December 2022, Buttigieg had reportedly used private jets managed by the FAA at least 18 times since becoming DOT secretary. A number of the destinations were characterized in Fox News' initial damning report as swing states, suggesting that the Democratic official's motivations may have been partisan in nature.
In one instance, he used a private jet to fly to Canada, where, extra to attending an International Civil Aviation Organization conference, he also attended an LGBT activist event to accept an award for his "contributions to the advancement of LGBTQ rights."
The FAA charges federal agencies roughly $5,000 per hour to fly using its fleet — a large amount more than a $200 domestic ticket, as one critic noted online.
Buttigieg's office claimed that all but one of the secretary's trips on FAA aircraft were less expensive than the commercial alternatives and that the total was $41,905.20, reported the Washington Post.
The DOT also alleged that 119 of the 138 trips Buttigieg has purportedly taken since being sworn in have been on commercial airlines.
According to the Post, Buttigieg's predecessor in the Trump administration only used the FAA's planes for seven trips. However, Anthony Foxx, former President Barack Obama's DOT secretary, used FAA planes on 116 trips over a period of four years.
In a Dec. 16 letter to the DOT inspector general, Rubio stated that if the reports of Buttigieg's possible improprieties "are confirmed, it would represent yet another troubling example of this administration's continued willingness to skirt basic ethics rules."
Rubio underscored how federal travel regulations state "because the taxpayers should pay no more than necessary for your transportation, generally you may travel on Government aircraft only when a Government aircraft is the most cost-effective mode of travel," adding that "the definition of 'Government aircraft' includes chartered aircraft."
Furthermore, "DOT’s own Travel Order and Manual further states that 'DOT employees are required to exercise the same care in incurring expenses that a prudent person would exercise if traveling on personal business when making official travel arrangements, and therefore, should consider the least expensive class of travel that meets the needs of the agency’s mission,'" wrote Rubio.
The Republican senator suggested that in light of these rules, "it is unclear why Secretary Buttigieg would require such costly travel in these instances when more economical options were reportedly available."
Past government officials have resigned for precisely what Buttigieg is rumored to have done. For instance, Tom Price, who served as secretary of health and human services in the Trump administration, stepped down after his excessive use cost more than $1 million and wasted hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.
Rubio concluded his letter by stating, "American taxpayers deserve assurances that their tax dollars are not wasted by the government's highest officials."
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) similarly penned a letter demanding clarity around Buttigieg's suspect travel arrangements.
Grassley's Jan. 24 letter to Buttigieg noted a glaring difference between the experience of everyday Americans seeking to travel and that enjoyed by the DOT secretary: "Tens of thousands of passengers were stranded in airports around the holidays. This sad spectacle was followed in short order by the meltdown of a critical FAA notification system that led to a pause on all departing flights nationwide for the first time since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Despite these migraine-level transportation headaches for the traveling public, reports indicate that you have found the skies to be much friendlier due to your access to private, taxpayer-funded flights."
Grassley suggested that it was difficult to see how flights to swing states or to meet with partisan actors such as the president of the ACLU "required the use of expensive non-commercial travel," noting that the supposedly eco-conscious Biden official could have alternatively held meetings in Washington or "picked up a phone."
The Iowa Republican joined Rubio in asserting, "To maintain the trust of the American people, it is critical to be transparent when there exists even an appearance of potential impropriety. Americans must be able to trust that their tax money will not be wasted on unnecessary trips or extravagant modes of travel by government officials."
Ward, at the Office of Inspector General, noted in his letter that the audit "will focus on official trips taken since January 31, 2017," and will commence shortly.
In response to the news of the audit, Buttigieg tweeted, "Glad this will be reviewed independently so misleading narratives can be put to rest. Bottom line: I mostly fly on commercial flights, in economy class. And when I do use our agency’s aircraft, it’s usually a situation where doing so saves taxpayer money."
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