By Jordy Yager - 02/28/13 06:02 PM EST
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Thursday criticized Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller for using official government jets to take personal trips on the taxpayer’s dime with automatic budget cuts rapidly approaching.
“I’m really interested in how the attorney general can claim that federal law enforcement agents will be cut, knowing that over the last 5 years the department has allowed for millions of dollars to be spent on personal travel,” said Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Grassley was referencing a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report he released on Thursday, which found that from fiscal year 2007 to 2011, Mueller and three attorneys general have spent $11.4 million to take a combined 659 flights not directly related to their respective department’s mission operations.
Of those 659 flights, 490 of them — or 74 percent — have been for field office visits, meetings and conferences, while 158 of the jet trips — or 24 percent — have been for personal reasons, such as trips home or vacations, according to the GAO study.
The GAO report, which Grassley requested, determined that Mueller and the three attorneys general — Michael Mukasey under President George W. Bush, Mark Flip, who served as the department’s acting head for one month under President Obama, and Holder — have paid back the costs of the trips taken for personal reasons, as required by law, but at a lower rate that is comparable to commercial flight prices.
For example, Holder took a personal trip to New York in 2010 on the FBI’s Gulfstream V jet. The GAO estimated that the operational cost of the flight was about $15,894. But Holder reimbursed the government only $420.80, the comparable price of a coach ticket on a commercial flight, according to the study.
The attorney general and FBI director are required by law to only use government transportation for security and communication reasons.
“Nobody disputes that the Attorney General and the FBI Director should have access to the secure communications, but, for instance, there’s no reason they can’t take a less expensive mode of transportation, or cut their personal travel,” said Grassley.
“The taxpayers expect some discretion on this type of thing.”
The attorneys general took more personal flights, 151, than Mueller, who took only 7 during that time period. The Justice Department said the discrepancy was because the FBI director was not required by law to use government transportation until 2011.
Holder has repeatedly warned of the far-reaching negative effects that the across-the-board spending cuts expected to kick in with Friday’s sequestration deadline will have on the department.
Grassley said he plans to ask Holder about his jet travels at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s oversight hearing of the DOJ next Wednesday.