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 PerryPartisan politics at independent agency draws bipartisan rebuke Overnight Energy: House panel approves park funding, offshore drilling bills | Green group putting M into races | Perry applauds Russia boosting oil production Perry welcomes efforts by Russia, OPEC to boost oil production 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 PriceWhite House officials discussing potential replacements for FEMA chief: report Overnight Health Care: CBO finds bill delaying parts of ObamaCare costs B | Drug CEO defends 400 percent price hike | HHS declares health emergency ahead of hurricane HHS should look into Azar's close ties to the drug industry MORE, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOn The Money: Trump signs first 2019 'minibus' spending package | Mueller probing transactions by Russian organizers of Trump Tower meeting | Stocks brush off trade fears On The Money: Cohen reportedly questioned over Trump dealings with Russia | Trump hails economy | Tells workers to 'start looking' if they want a better job | Internal poll shows tax law backfiring on GOP Trump announces tariffs on 0B in Chinese goods MORE, Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeMontana lawmakers cheer recommendation to ban mining north of Yellowstone Overnight Energy: Navajo coal plant to close | NC dam breach raises pollution fears | House panel to examine endangered species bills Navajo-owned coal plant to be shut down despite Interior push to keep open MORE and Environmental Protection Agency head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittGovernment watchdog probing EPA’s handling of Hurricane Harvey response Wheeler won’t stop America’s addiction to fossil fuels Overnight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas MORE.

Price resigned under pressure last year due to his charter flights, and Veterans Affairs Secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinVeterans group sues to block advisers known as ‘Mar-a-Lago Crowd’ from influencing VA Mar-a-Lago insiders provided input on VA policy, personnel decisions: report Ahead of speech, Kansas City newspaper urges Trump to listen to veterans 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.