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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 PerryRick PerryOvernight Energy: Michigan reps reintroduce measure for national 'forever chemicals' standard |  White House says gas tax won't be part of infrastructure bill Trump alumni launch America First Policy Institute Senators urge Energy chief to prioritize cybersecurity amid growing threats 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 PriceBiden health nominee faces first Senate test Focus on cabinet nominees' effectiveness and expertise, not just ideology Conspicuous by their absence from the Republican Convention MORE, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinDemocrats justified in filibustering GOP, says Schumer Yellen provides signature for paper currency Biden's name will not appear on stimulus checks, White House says MORE, Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeMissouri Senate candidate Eric Greitens tangles with Hugh Hewitt in testy interview Overnight Energy: Interior finalizes plan to open 80 percent of Alaska petroleum reserve to drilling | Justice Department lawyers acknowledge presidential transition in court filing | Trump admin pushes for permits for men who inspired Bundy standoff Trump administration pushes for grazing permits for men who inspired Bundy standoff MORE and Environmental Protection Agency head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittScientific integrity, or more hot air? OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden proposes billions for electric vehicles, building retrofitting| EPA chief to replace Trump appointees on science advisory panels | Kerry to travel to UAE, India to discuss climate change EPA chief to replace Trump appointees on science advisory panels MORE.

Price resigned under pressure last year due to his charter flights, and Veterans Affairs Secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinBiden's nominee for VA secretary isn't a veteran — does it matter? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Congress slogs toward COVID-19 relief, omnibus deal A crisis that unites 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.