CREW sent a letter to Chief of Staff John Kelly requesting that he curb non-compliance by administration officials of the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) guidance on the use of government aircraft by agency officials.
The OMB sets forth government-wide policy guidance on the use and reimbursement of government aircraft. At its core, the government-wide guidance restricts and controls travel on government aircraft, recognizing the significant financial burdens it places on agency budgets. Government aircraft, which includes charter flights, can be used for “official travel,” which includes both “required use travel” — where government aircraft is necessary for communications or security needs or scheduling requirements — and travel that is not to meet “mission requirements,” such as travel “to give speeches, to attend conferences or meetings, or to make routine site visits.”
Those traveling for the latter purpose cannot use government aircraft unless: (1) no commercial aircraft, including charter service, is “reasonably available,” defined as meeting the traveler’s departure/arrival requirements within a 24-hour period; or (2) the actual cost of using a government aircraft does not exceed the cost of a commercial airline or charter.
There have been widespread news reports of trips by multiple cabinet heads on government aircraft that run afoul of OMB guidance: former HHS Secretary Tom Price, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have all taken trips that raise serious questions about whether OMB requirements for government travel were met.
The recently imposed requirement by OMB Director Mick Mulvaney that all travel not done to meet mission requirements or not on a space-available basis be approved by you in advance is an important first step in ensuring lawful use of government aircraft, but it is only a first step. The full scope of the problem remains unknown, leaving it unclear how to confidently ensure such abuses are not repeated; further, taxpayers have yet to be reimbursed for the grossly excessive travel costs many cabinet officials have improperly incurred.
CREW therefore requests that Chief of Staff Kelly launch a full, government-wide investigation into travel by administration officials, and publicize the results of that investigation, and propose additional measures to stem improper use of government aircraft.