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 PerryGas prices could rise 15 to 30 cents following Saudi attack Trump envoy presses Saudi Arabia to allow nuclear inspections Perry confident energy market 'will rebound positively' after Saudi oil attack 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 PriceTom Price: The fiscal crisis at hand The Hill's Morning Report — Hurricane headed for Florida changes Trump's travel plans The Hill's Morning Report - Gillibrand drops out as number of debaters shrinks MORE, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinWhite House officials, Giuliani come to Trump's defense on Ukraine allegations Mnuchin on Trump's call with Ukraine president: 'Things are being implied that just don't exist' Overnight Defense: Trump hits Iranian central bank with sanctions | Trump meeting with Ukrainian leader at UN | Trump touts relationship with North Korea's Kim as 'best thing' for US MORE, Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeInterior gains new watchdog The Hill's Morning Report - Gillibrand drops out as number of debaters shrinks BLM issues final plan for reduced Utah monument MORE and Environmental Protection Agency head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEPA moving ahead with science transparency rule by 'early next year' Overnight Energy: Trump administration to repeal waterway protections| House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge| Administration takes key step to open Alaskan refuge to drilling by end of year Trump administration to repeal waterway protections MORE.

Price resigned under pressure last year due to his charter flights, and Veterans Affairs Secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinPress: Acosta, latest to walk the plank Senior Trump administration official to leave post next week Trump sent policy pitch from Mar-a-Lago member to VA secretary: report 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.