Defense

Dems target Trump administration’s use of military planes in defense bill debate

Greg Nash

The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday voted down a proposal that would have required the Pentagon to report on the cost of Trump administration officials using military aircraft for travel.

The amendment was voted down 30-31 during the panel’s markup of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Two Republicans, Reps. Don Bacon (Neb.) and Steve Knight (Calif.), supported the measure, while another Republican, Rep. Walter Jones (N.C.), did not vote.

Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.) offered the amendment, citing several times that Trump administration officials have used military aircraft for travel.

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“Some are indeed rightfully required to travel exclusively by [military aircraft] for national security purposes. But for everyone else there’s rules,” Halleran said. “That’s why I and many other Americans have been outraged by report after report surfacing that senior administration officials are abusing ethics rules and improperly using military aircraft for travel.”

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) added that amendment would shed light on the Trump administration’s “outrageous corruption” in the use of military planes.

Democrats cited several instances where Trump administration officials have used military aircraft, such as former Health and Human Services Secretary’s Tom Price use of military jets to go to Europe and Asia allegedly costing more than $500,000; Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt’s use of a military jet to get from Ohio to New York to make a flight to Rome reportedly costing $36,000; Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s use of military aircraft to get to Norway and Alaska; and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s reported $1 million bill for military aircraft use.

“In all these cases, this type of travel was pre-approved, as required by the White House, which raises the question: to what extent was DoD being asked to support unnecessary and lavish travel for high-ranking officials,” O’Halleran said.

O’Halleran’s amendment would have required the Pentagon to report to Congress every 90 days on the department’s direct and indirect costs of travel by senior executive officials military aircraft.

Travel requiring the use of a military aircraft, such as Defense Secretary James Mattis’s, would have been exempt from the report.

Such information already has to be reported to the General Services Administration, but is only available to the public through Freedom of Information Act requests, O’Halleran said.

He argued the arrangement puts an undue burden on the Pentagon by requiring them to respond to those requests.

But Republicans argued O’Halleran’s amendment would have put a new burden on the Pentagon by requiring it to give Congress reports every 90 days.

Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) called the amendment a “political shot.”

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) also noted the Pentagon opposed the amendment for its open-ended commitment to deliver reports.

“Sadly, this does nothing to address the underlying issue of perceived excessive travel,” Wilson said. “It requires burdensome reporting on several thousand appointees across the federal government and will be difficult to compile.”

Tags Austin Scott James Mattis Joe Wilson Ruben Gallego Ryan Zinke Scott Pruitt Steven Mnuchin Tom Price Walter Jones

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