Cabinet officials Elaine Chao and Steve Mnuchin are drawing ire for using expensive government aircraft instead of commercial flights while on the job.
In the past eight months, Transportation Secretary Chao has used government planes seven times, the Washington Post reported. As head of the department, she has access to a fleet of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) jets.
Chao reportedly used the FAA’s Gulfstream IV and Cessna jets for travels to France and Italy, but also for day trips within an hour from Washington. The exact cost of her spending has not been disclosed, but when loaned, the Gulfstream and Cessna cost $5,644 and $4,922 per hour, respectively.
In addition to her private flights, Chao, however, used 38 commercial flights. Spokeswoman Marianne McInerney told the Post that the secretary only uses government aircraft when they come cheaper for her staff or to meet specific schedules and security demands.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, on the other hand, made nine requests for government planes for “White House support missions” that so far cost $800,000, according to Fortune. Eight have been completed, including a honeymoon trip requested by mistake and consequently withdrawn. A trip to “several countries” in the Middle East is scheduled later this month.
After a review, Rich Delmar, counsel for the Treasury Inspector-General’s office, said that he saw “no violation of law in these requests and uses” but expressed concern over the “disconnect” between the standard amount of proof needed to justify a flight as a “White House support mission” and the actual amount of proof available to support such flights.
It must be noted that these expensive trips are funded by taxpayers. Chao and Mnuchin traveled together via government plane to attend a press conference on Aug. 15 at Trump Tower, The Hill noted.
The spotlight shifts following Tom Price’s resignation on Sept. 29 over similar criticisms. The former secretary of Health and Human Services reportedly spent more than $1 million on private flights, which he justified as a choice when commercial flights were unfeasible, according to Politico.
Price wrote in his letter to President Trump (via The New York Times):
“I have spent 40 years both as a doctor and public servant putting people first. I regret that the recent events have created a distraction from these important objectives. Success on these issues is more important than any one person. In order for you to move forward without further disruption, I am officially tendering my resignation.”