There’s no evidence Energy Secretary Rick Perry or other Energy Department political appointees “had inappropriately taken trips” aboard government aircraft, according to federal investigators.
Congress ordered the Energy Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) to review travel on government aircraft last year as other Trump administration officials came under fire for costly air travel on chartered planes.
Unsurprisingly, “nothing came to our attention to indicate that non-career Federal employees within the Department had inappropriately taken trips on Government aircraft,” the OIG reported on Thursday. Government officials can get approval to charter private or government aircraft when no commercial flights are available or if it’s a more cost-effective option.
Though OIG investigators did note “opportunities to improve the Department’s processes, procedures, and controls related to the use of Government aircraft,” including the “development and implementation of formal policies and procedures for justifying and approving the use of Government aircraft could enhance the internal controls over non-career Federal employee travel.”
Perry took one chartered flight last year to tour several energy sights in Ohio. Perry told Congress about his flight last year after former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned after billing taxpayers $400,000 for chartered flights. (RELATED: Trump Will Reverse Obama’s Policy Of Prosecuting Unintentional Bird Killings)
Lawmakers also targeted Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin for spending on flights. The focus on Pruitt, however, involved his flying of first class for security reasons.
However, news outlets only uncovered evidence Perry took one chartered flight. Reuters reported in September that Perry flew a chartered plane into Hazleton, Penn., because no commercial airliners fly to the city.
While in Pennsylvania, Perry visited the Jeddo Coal Mine in Luzerne County. The mine is part of a federally funded pilot project to extract rare earth minerals from coal.
Perry then flew to Portsmouth, Ohio, to tour a Cold War-era uranium plant where he was joined by Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman and two House lawmakers.
During a congressional hearing, Perry touted his love of flying Southwest Airlines when traveling home to Texas.
“I think there are multiple pictures of me on the Drudge report that showed me at Southwest Airlines reading the Drudge report,” Perry told House lawmakers in October.
OIG investigators identified nine trips where non-career Energy Department officials chartered government-owned aircraft going back to February 2016. The most expensive of those flights was a January 2017 trip taken by former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.
Moniz’s three-day trip cost taxpayers $75,000. In total, Moniz and Perry’s use of chartered flights cost taxpayers about $169,000 since January 2017.
Lawmakers also had the OIG look at a specific trip Perry took to Kansas City in May 2017, calling into question whether the use of chartered aircraft could have been avoided.
“Secretary Perry had firmly scheduled events that General Counsel indicated could not have been accommodated by commercial air service,” the OIG reported. “We found that the return trip was justified because the Department had to pay the costs to return the aircraft back to its origin regardless of whether it contained passengers.”
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