The Transportation Department’s internal watchdog announced on Monday that it will be auditing Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s use of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) jets.
Transportation’s Office of the Inspector General said it will be auditing Buttigieg “to determine whether the Office of the Secretary complied with Federal regulations, policies, and procedures regarding executive travel on DOT aircraft.” The audit comes in response to Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) request for one in December, after a Fox News Digital report found that Buttigieg had taken at least 18 flights on the FAA jets.
The watchdog will review all Buttigieg’s official flights starting from Jan. 31, 2017, and said it will start the audit “shortly.”
“Senator Marco Rubio requested that we determine whether the Secretary’s use of Government aircraft for domestic and international travel complied with all applicable Federal regulations and DOT policies and procedures,” the announcement reads. “Accordingly, we will conduct an audit to determine whether the Office of the Secretary complied with Federal regulations, policies, and procedures regarding executive travel on DOT aircraft.”
The Hill reached out to Rubio’s office for comment.
Federal travel regulations limit employee travel on government vehicles and state that “[b]ecause the taxpayers should pay no more than necessary for your transportation, generally you may travel on Government aircraft only when a Government aircraft is the most cost-effective mode of travel.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to Buttigieg last month demanding answers on the secretary’s travel, including asking for an itemized list of all non-commercial flights he took, all expenses paid for by Transportation Department related to the flights and reasons the flight was warranted.
The Washington Post reported that the cost of Buttigieg’s 18 flights over seven total trips, including accommodations for staff, was $41,905.20. The Post also reported that in a response to Grassley, the Transportation Department said 119 out of Buttigieg’s 138 flights he took since being sworn in were on commercial airlines. A spokesperson for the department confirmed these details to The Hill.
“We welcome this independent audit moving forward in order to put some of the false, outlandish, and cynical claims about the Secretary’s mode of travel to rest. The fact remains that he flies commercially the vast majority of the time,” the spokesperson said.
“The exceptions have been when the Department’s career ethics officials, who have served under both Democratic and Republican administrations, determined that the use of a 9-seat FAA plane would be either more cost effective or should be approved for exceptional scheduling or security reasons,” the statement continued.
Buttigieg also responded to news of the audit on Twitter, saying that he is “glad” the flights will be reviewed.
“Glad this will be reviewed independently so misleading narratives can be put to rest. Bottom line: I mostly fly on commercial flights, in economy class. And when I do use our agency’s aircraft, it’s usually a situation where doing so saves taxpayer money,” he tweeted.