A high-ranking political appointee of President Barack Obama’s at the Department of Commerce violated federal rules when he wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars on swanky hotels, limos and plush office decor, according to a new Commerce Department Office of Inspector General (IG) report.
The Obama appointee wasn’t named by the IG but was identified by the Washington Post as former Undersecretary for International Trade Stefan Selig. He regularly spent tax dollars on lavish trips at home and abroad, used his assistant to conduct his personal business and spent “questionable” amounts renovating his office.
The IG was prompted to investigate Selig’s conduct when it received a confidential tip in 2015. He was appointed in November 2013.
The 45-page IG report — unlike the usual sanitized IG reports — depicts Selig as a man who was not satisfied until he had the perfect cocktail, luxurious office suite and most comfortable hotel — all on the taxpayers’ dime. Other Commerce Department staff members followed suit, expensing costly transportation and other luxuries, according to the IG. (RELATED: Feds Go Overseas With Fat Wallets)
The excessive travel expenditures continued because of “an erroneous belief on the part of key staff members organizing and approving the political appointee’s travel arrangements that political appointee was entitled to higher per diem rates by virtue of his position” and “an understanding on the part of political appointee’s staff members that political appointee expected to stay in lodging of a higher quality than standard per diem rates would cover,” the report said.
The conservative non-profit government watchdog Cause of Action Institute announced Friday that it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the IG for additional information on the appointee’s behavior and why the Department of Commerce allowed it.
“A high-ranking political appointee at the Department of Commerce must be held accountable for his rampant wasteful spending and misconduct,” Cause of Action Institute President and former federal judge Alfred J. Lechner, Jr., said in a statement.
“Reports of taxpayer-funded lavish foreign travel, luxury car service, and ‘over the top’ office renovations raise serious concerns. Such misconduct is beyond inappropriate and could even be criminal. American taxpayers have the right to know whether such wasteful spending could be a more widespread problem at the agency.”
Among the IG’s findings were these expenditures by the “political appointee:”
- $1,150 per night at a luxury hotel in Geneva, Switzerland, where the approved per-diem rate is $350.
- $1,800 for rides in a luxury SUV during a two-day trip to Boston.
- $50,000 for changes to his D.C. office suite, 10 times the $5,000 office renovation stipend federal law grants political appointees (the carpet alone cost $10,000)
- $270 per night at a Memphis, Tennessee hotel, 240 percent higher than the standard per-diem rate
- $450 for a luxury hotel in New York City, 230 percent higher than the standard per-diem rate
The Washington Post reported Selig left his post in June.
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