Obama admin political appointee takes heat for trips home on taxpayers’ dime

Americans for Limited Government is raising questions over 13 trips Obama political appointee Ron Sims made to his home city of Seattle during his first several months as deputy secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

“It certainly raises questions about the legitimacy of these trips – were these frequent trips to Seattle something his position at HUD required of him, or were they thinly veiled excuses to return to his old stomping grounds to carry on some ‘business as usual’ at federal taxpayer’s expense,” ALG staff attorney Mark Wohlschlegel told The Daily Caller in an email. “Deputy Secretary Ron Sims is just one more example of Obama’s appointees that come to office under-qualified, with a controversial past.”

Sims’s travel vouchers, obtained by Americans for Limited Government (ALG) through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, detail just how much time Sims was spending in Seattle, how he got there and why he went.

In total, Sims spent $19,026.13 on his trips that went through or to Seattle as a member of the Obama administration from May 2009 through August 2010. During that time, Sims spent 45 out of 128 travel days, or about 35 percent, in Seattle.

On May 26, 2009, for example, just several weeks after Sims joined the Obama administration, he was already traveling to Seattle on personal business. Sims did a “meet and greet” at the local HUD office, which was enough to land him a taxpayer-paid-for $592.43 flight back to D.C. and $40.50 in per diem sustenance, or meal costs.

“Traveler was in the Seattle, WA, area on personal business,” reads Sims’s travel voucher for that day. “When the HUD Regional Office learned that he was in the area, he was asked him [sic] to visit the office for a meet and greet. Therefore, the one-way airfare returning to Washington and per diem for 05/26/09 will be paid by the department.”

Sims went to Seattle again on June 9, 2009, and stayed there until June 14, 2009. He was “on official travel” on June 9, then took “personal time” on June 10 and June 11. He shifted back into “official business” mode on June 12 to give a keynote speech at the University of Washington Evans School of Public Affairs. According to the university’s website, that commencement event was one hour long. Sims then took another personal day in the Seattle area on June 13, 2009, before returning to D.C. on June 14.

On that trip, Sims also conducted an “interview” with the “Partnership for Sustainable Communities,” had a meeting with “Project Green” and did another meet and greet with a regional HUD office.

On July 6, 2009, Sims was on “personal business” in Seattle again. He launched a government trip from there through Phoenix and Las Vegas, flying to Arizona on July 6. Sims justified starting in Seattle by showing, on his travel vouchers, that he’d saved the government $344.60 in doing so.

In Phoenix, he toured the Salt River Indian Community and visited the local HUD office. Then, on July 7, Sims drove with to Las Vegas in a personal vehicle and stayed overnight “at no expense to the government.” He returned to Washington, D.C., on July 9, 2009. While in Las Vegas, Sims’s vouchers say he “toured areas funded by HUD recovery initiatives,” went to a press conference, visited the HUD-funded Lamar Homes and went into the Las Vegas regional HUD office for a meet and greet.

In late July 2009, Sims embarked on another multiple city trip, starting in D.C., then going to cities including Portland, Oregon, Philadelphia, Nashville and Memphis. First up was Philadelphia on July 23. Then Sims went to Portland, Oregon on July 24. At 2 p.m. that day, Sims ended his “official business” and went on “personal travel” to Seattle. Two days later, on July 26, 2009, Sims resumed official business and traveled from Seattle to Tennessee to visit Nashville and Memphis. According to his travel vouchers, he did not participate in any official business during that hiatus in Seattle.

In late September and early October, Sims did it again. On September 29, 2009, Sims visited a field office in Spokane, Washington, before heading to Anchorage, Alaska, for a press event. He then went from Anchorage to Seattle on October 1, where he remained until October 4. Sims’s travel vouchers say he stayed in Seattle “at no expense to the government.” Sims’s stated reason for going to Seattle for three days was to attend a Healthy Homes Conference and U.S. Conference of Mayors event.

In late October 2009, Sims returned, yet again, to his native Seattle. After giving a speech at the Bay Area Association of Governments and meeting with the San Francisco Foundation in northern California on October 21, he went to his home city the next day. His official reason for going there was that he was going to participate in the White House “Urban Affairs Listening Tour” and go to the “Beyond Oil Conference.” His travel vouchers show he took more personal time from October 23, 2009, to October 25, 2009, while in Seattle.

Within weeks, Sims found another reason to visit Seattle on “official business” before taking additional days of “personal business” while there. On November 5, 2009, Sims left Washington, D.C. for Seattle to speak at Central Washington University. He stayed in Seattle on “personal business” from November 6, 2009 until November 8, 2009, when he left Seattle for Arizona, then New York.