Political News

A look at questions over Cabinet members' travel

Posted September 29

— Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has resigned amid controversy over his use of costly private charter flights on government business. But other Cabinet members are also facing congressional scrutiny over their travel.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke dismissed the controversy over charters as "a little BS over travel," but he acknowledged taxpayers do have the right to know official travel costs.

The Price controversy was a catalyst for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to launch a government-wide travel investigation. The panel is seeking detailed records from the White House and 24 departments and agencies on the use of government planes as well as private charters.

Here's a look at what other Cabinet members are saying:

—Interior's Zinke said he's taken three charter flights while in office, including a $12,375 late-night trip from Las Vegas to his home state of Montana in June. Zinke said no commercial flight was available at the time he planned to fly for a speech to Western governors. He also went on a military flight with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to view wildfires in Montana. All of his travel was approved in advance by Interior's ethics officials "after extensive due diligence," Zinke said.

—Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said he has not used private aircraft for official business but has taken six trips on military aircraft. Information about his official travel will be posted on the department's website, he said.

—At the Treasury Department, the inspector general is investigating all requests for and use of government aircraft, including those by Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who came under fire for requesting a government aircraft to use on his honeymoon. The request was later withdrawn.

—The EPA said four non-commercial flights taken by Administrator Scott Pruitt were pre-approved by ethics lawyers. The agency's inspector general opened an inquiry last month into Pruitt's frequent taxpayer-funded travel on commercial planes. The Associated Press reported earlier this year that Pruitt often spends weekends at his Tulsa home.

— The Pentagon said Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has never requested or used charter aircraft. Mattis has reimbursed the government for the cost of some unofficial travel, but the Pentagon did not immediately provide the number of trips or the total costs repaid. The secretary of defense is required to travel on military aircraft wherever he goes so he can be in contact with the president and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Military planes carry the secure communications equipment required for classified calls and video teleconferences. In addition, the military flights of top defense leaders often double as training missions for Air Force crew.

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