Watchdog clears Perry’s use of non-commercial flights, but advises policy change

Watchdog clears Perry’s use of non-commercial flights, but advises policy change
© Camille Fine

Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryOvernight Energy: Pruitt gone, but investigations remain | Interim EPA chief called Trump a 'bully' in 2016 | Court rules for greens in air pollution case Trump coal plan could lead to 1 pollution-related death for every 2 jobs: study On the agenda for US-Russia talks: Energy MORE follows all relevant policies and laws when he used charter or military aircraft for five flights last year, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) internal watchdog found.

The DOE’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) said in a Friday report that DOE “had not developed formal policies and procedures to justify and approve” the use of non-commercial aircraft for official travel, and investigators recommended that the department write such policies.

But otherwise, Perry followed the law and general policies from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, the report concluded. It also looked at four more trips on non-commercial aircraft by political employees in 2016, under the Obama administration.

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“Although we did not find any instances where inappropriate trips were taken on Government aircraft, the suggested improvements should reduce the risk that Government aircraft is authorized in the future without appropriate justification and help ensure transparency in the Department’s travel processes,” April Stephenson, the deputy assistant inspector general, wrote to Perry.

Numerous Trump administration officials have been under scrutiny for using charter or military aircraft or first-class travel on the taxpayers’ dime in cases where it might not have been necessary, including former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceFive GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus Overnight Health Care: Watchdog finds Tom Price improperly used funds on flights | Ex-Novartis CEO sent drug pricing proposal to Cohen | HHS staffers depart after controversial social media posts The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Mueller indicts 12 Russian officials for DNC hack | Trump does damage control after bombshell interview MORE, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinIRS reduces donor reporting rules for some tax-exempt groups On The Money: US files complaints at WTO | House leaders get deal to boost biz investment | Mnuchin says US will consider Iran sanctions waivers | FCC deals blow to Sinclair-Tribune merger Mnuchin says US will consider Iran oil sanctions waivers: report MORE, Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeWatchdog: First lady spokeswoman may have violated Hatch Act with ‘MAGA’ tweet Lawmakers aim to use spending bill to block offshore drilling Overnight Energy: House to vote on anti-carbon tax measure | Dem says EPA obstructed 'politically charged' FOIA requests | GOP looks to overhaul endangered species law MORE and Environmental Protection Agency head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEPA defends FOIA policy after criticism Why did it take so long for Trump to drain the swamp of Pruitt? New EPA chief draws sharp contrast to Pruitt MORE.

Price resigned under pressure last year due to his charter flights, and Veterans Affairs Secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinOn paper, Wilkie is the perfect candidate for VA secretary, but his qualifications go further VA nominee heads to full Senate confirmation The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Anticipation builds for Trump’s SCOTUS pick MORE was forced out earlier this year over objections to his taxpayer-funded travel expenses.

DOE welcomed the Friday report.

“The Department has always believed that there has been no misuse of government aircraft by Secretary Perry and DOE staff. We appreciate the Inspector General’s review which found nothing improper about the few instances where Secretary Perry and DOE staff have utilized non-commercial travel,” said spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes.

Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, led by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), had requested the OIG inquiry.

The OIG’s report found that Perry used government planes owned by the Federal Aviation Administration or Defense Department on four trips last year at DOE’s expense, and used a charter plane on one trip.

Each time, the uses were approved by the appropriate individuals at DOE, and were sufficiently justified due to scheduling, costs or other reasons.

Investigators said that DOE did not have policies implementing government-wide standards for documenting compliance with the rules, but labeled that as an “administrative issue.”

“We did not find any indication that the trips reviewed were inappropriate.”

Perry has defended the trips, and the use of non-commercial aircraft, as appropriate, given the needs of the department.

“I’m going to continue to do my job. I’m going to make the commitment to you that I’m going to try to do it in the most thoughtful and the most reasonable way to do that, but realizing that, from time to time, if I’m going to be in those places, and we’re going to be there in a timely fashion, we may have to do it in a way that does expend some taxpayers’ dollars,” he told House lawmakers in October.

He added to the House panel that he usually chooses Southwest or United Airlines for his official travel.