Perry defends non-commercial flights as necessary
Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Thursday defended his use of non-commercial planes on the taxpayers’ dime as a necessary expense to do his job.
Perry has been under fire recently as one of several cabinet secretaries to use charter and government planes for official business. His use reached a total cost of more than $56,000.
He took a charter plane to tour a Pennsylvania coal mine last month, then took it to a Department of Energy (DOE) facility in Ohio. He’s also taken three government planes that DOE had to pay to use, all to DOE sites.
At a Thursday hearing in front of a House Energy and Commerce Committee panel, Perry said his job often requires flying to places where commercial air service would be too inconvenient.
“The point is, it’s really difficult for us to have gotten there without taking that private aircraft to Hazleton,” Perry said, referring to the town closest to the mine he toured.
“You can get there, I’m not going to tell you you can’t,” he said. “I think we’ve looked at this closely; we’ve been thoughtful about how we did it.”
Hazleton has a regional airport with no commercial service, though nearby Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport has frequent scheduled flights. Greater Portsmouth Regional Airport, where he flew to visit the Ohio facility, does not have commercial flights.
Perry said he’s been careful about spending federal money, and he’ll continue to be so.
“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 said.
“But I hope, at the end of that process, they can look back and say ‘you know what, these folks did a good job of expending our dollars and getting the job done,’” he continued.
Perry said he usually flies Southwest or United Airlines for official travel, and he’s a frequent flyer on both airlines.
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Democrat on the panel, had earlier criticized Perry’s travel expenditures. He has requested that the DOE’s Inspector General investigate the issue.
“This is of particular concern given the extreme budget cuts the Trump administration proposed for the upcoming fiscal year, including successful programs that help everyday Americans,” he said.
There are at least four Cabinet secretaries under fire for their use of charter or military flights. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned last month following controversy over his repeated use of charter and military aircraft, at public expense, for official travel.
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