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 PerryHouse Dems propose billions in extra funding for environmental programs that Trump sought to cut Overnight Energy: States fight Trump rollback of Obama lightbulb rules | Greens seek hearing over proposed rule on energy efficiency tests | Top Dem asks GAO to investigate climate threat States fight Trump rollback of Obama lightbulb rules 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 PriceOvernight Health Care: CEO of largest private health insurer slams 'Medicare for All' plans | Dem bill targets youth tobacco use | CVS fined over fake painkiller prescriptions | Trump, first lady to discuss opioid crisis at summit HHS inspector general stepping down from watchdog role Ex-GOP lawmaker Handel to run for her former Georgia seat in 2020 MORE, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOn The Money: Treasury rejects Dem subpoena for Trump tax returns | Companies warn trade war about to hit consumers | Congress, White House to launch budget talks next week | Trump gets deal to lift steel tariffs on Mexico, Canada READ: Mnuchin refuses to provide Trump's tax returns Treasury Department rejects Dem subpoena for Trump tax returns MORE, Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeInterior's border surge puts more officers in unfamiliar role Not 'if' but 'when' is the next Deepwater Horizon spill? Former Wyoming GOP lawmaker mulling Senate bid to replace Enzi MORE and Environmental Protection Agency head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOn The Money: New financial disclosures provide glimpse of Trump's wealth | Walmart, Macy's say tariffs will mean price hikes | Consumer agency says Education Department blocking student loan oversight Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog finds Pruitt spent 4K on 'excessive' travel | Agency defends Pruitt expenses | Lawmakers push EPA to recover money | Inslee proposes spending T for green jobs Lawmakers take EPA head to task for refusing to demand Pruitt repay travel expenses MORE.

Price resigned under pressure last year due to his charter flights, and Veterans Affairs Secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinTrump sent policy pitch from Mar-a-Lago member to VA secretary: report Is a presidential appointment worth the risk? It’s time to end the scare tactics and get to work for our 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.