08.30.18

Peters, Colleagues Lead Effort to Crack Down on Lavish, Wasteful Spending by Executive Agency Officials

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Tom Carper (D-DE), Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced legislation to hold Trump Administration officials accountable when they misuse taxpayer dollars. The Executive Branch Waste and Fraud Recovery Act establishes a process requiring most senior agency officials to repay U.S. taxpayer dollars that were inappropriately spent on items like private flights, entertainment and vacations.

“Hardworking families in Michigan and across the country shouldn’t have to foot the bill for extravagant expenses Trump Administration officials have racked up on everything from first class travel to antique furniture,” said Senator Peters. “This commonsense bill will help protect taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars from abuse and rein in the excessive, wasteful spending by numerous Trump Administration officials.”

 "The Executive Branch Waste and Fraud Recovery Act is a common sense solution that will let taxpayers off the hook for wasteful and inappropriate spending by political appointees, while balancing the importance of due process,” said Protect On Government Oversight (POGO)’s Director of Public Policy, Elizabeth Hempowicz. We are happy to support this legislation and urge Congress to pass it quickly." 

“High-ranking government officials should know that, when they direct the spending of taxpayer money, they will be held accountable if they break the rules,” said Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)’s Policy Director, Jennifer Ahearn. “The Executive Branch Waste and Fraud Recovery Act sets up a fair process for ensuring they take that responsibility seriously, and will allow Americans to recoup that money if they fail.” 

The legislation is a response to a series of mounting ethical concerns stemming from decisions by senior Trump Administration officials to ignore agency procedures and direct wasteful spending decisions. Peters, who serves as Ranking Member of the Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management Subcommittee, previously called for investigations into press reports that several Trump Administration officials had engaged in excessive spending.

Official reports by agency inspectors general found a pattern of waste and abuse:

  • July 13, 2018, a report by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that former HHS Secretary Tom Price wasted at least $341,000 in federal funds while traveling on government business. For 20 of 21 flights, the OIG found Price failed to comply with applicable federal regulations and HHS policies and procedures by taking charter and first-class flights.
  • August 28, 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) OIG announced an audit of then-Administrator Scott Pruitt’s frequent travel to his home state of Oklahoma at taxpayers’ expense. The scope of the audit was later expanded to include of all Pruitt’s travel through December 31st, 2017. Reporting suggests that Pruitt spent $163,000 on first-class, military and charter flights during his first year in office. April 19, 2018, the EPA OIG announced plans to review Pruitt’s use of a security detail while on personal trips, which included visiting Disneyland and attending the Rose Bowl. Reporting suggests that the cost of the 20-member, full-time detail approached $3 million.
  • April 16, 2018, an OIG report by the Interior found agency ethics officials approved a return trip of Secretary Zinke’s from Las Vegas to Montana “without complete information.” That flight cost tax payers $12,375 and was used to give a speech which did not relate to his official duties as Secretary of the Interior.
  • March 2017 to October 2017, Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, took seven flights on a military aircraft, costing taxpayers more than $800,000. An OIG report by the Treasury found that while Mnuchin’s official travel did not violate federal law, the lack of detail for why a military aircraft was concerning.

The Executive Branch Waste and Fraud Recovery Act directs federal agencies to recoup wasteful or fraudulent expenses when the agency’s Inspector General determines that a current or former political appointee made expenditures that were either unlawful or inconsistent with agency regulations or policy and procedure. The investigative and recoupment processes laid out in the bill are based on provisions included in the Program Fraud Civil Remedies Act of 1986, which was enacted to give agencies the option of seeking redress against contractors and others who they believe committed fraud. That law was a response to a GAO finding at the time that DOJ was declining to prosecute 60 percent of certain smaller fraud cases because the loss to the government was deemed to be not significant.

Specifically, the bill:

  • Applies to spending decisions made by officials or former officials on the Executive Schedule;
  • Applies to inappropriate expenditures of $300,000 or less;
  • Requires that findings by an Inspector General be investigated by agencies; and
  • Provides significant due process for accused officials, including administrative hearings and judicial review of agencies’ final decisions.

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