02.28.19

Peters Questions Administration on Taxpayer-Funded Travel during Government Shutdown

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is seeking information from the White House and eleven federal agencies on taxpayer-funded official travel by senior federal officials and other agency employees that occurred during the nation’s longest government shutdown earlier this year.

“As public officials, it is critical that we act as responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars, particularly when government employees and other taxpayers suffered as a direct result of a government shutdown,” Senator Peters wrote. “Given this Administration’s record of wasteful travel spending, I am concerned about the extent of travel at taxpayer expense during the government shutdown, and whether funds were being used appropriately.”

The 35-day partial government shutdown forced Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) flight controllers to work without pay and caused staffing shortages that disrupted air travel. Many high-level Administration officials altered or canceled travel plans during the shutdown, although new trips were also authorized, including a White House staff visit to Camp David.

In a series of letters, Peters is requesting answers from the Trump Administration regarding the extent of taxpayer-funded travel during the shutdown, whether taxpayer dollars were used appropriately and whether agencies incurred cancellation costs at taxpayer expense. The letters were sent to the Office of Management and Budget, the White House, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, Department of the Treasury, Department of Agriculture, Department of Justice, Department of Commerce, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, and the General Services Administration.

The letters follow Peters’ prior work to investigate the Administration’s pattern of wasteful travel spending, including lavish expenses on charter and first-class flights, as well as spending taxpayer resources on travel not directly related to official government business.

The text of the letter to the Office of Management and Budget is copied below and available here

Dear Director Mulvaney:

In the wake of a government shutdown that disrupted travel for so many Americans, I am writing to learn the cost to taxpayers of travel taken by senior federal officials during the partial government shutdown.

Over the first two years of the Trump Administration, numerous high-level officials have been embroiled in scandals involving extravagant and often unnecessary travel. As a result of Congressional inquiries, persistent media attention, and watchdog reports that identified hundreds of thousands of dollars in wasteful spending, at least four Cabinet-level officials have resigned in part due to their lavish travel spending. While I am hopeful that the Administration has taken steps to control travel costs, I remain concerned that a culture of wasteful spending persists.

On January 25, 2019, the longest government shutdown in the history of the United States finally ended after nearly 35 days. During this time, taxpayers across the nation were forced to adjust their own travel plans due to delays at major airports, a direct result of the shutdown. Ultimately, the shutdown is expected to cost the U.S. economy $11 billion. Although senior federal officials adjusted some travel plans during the shutdown, new trips were also scheduled—for instance, a trip to Camp David for senior White House staff. The full scope of travel at taxpayer expense during the shutdown remains unclear.

As public officials, it is critical that we act as responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars, particularly when government employees and other taxpayers suffered as a direct result of a government shutdown. Given this Administration’s record of wasteful travel spending, I am concerned about the extent of travel at taxpayer expense during the government shutdown, and whether funds were being used appropriately. To this end, I am requesting the following information regarding official travel by senior federal officials, as defined in the Federal Travel Regulation (FTR), at your agency during the partial shutdown of the federal government:

  • Did your agency issue any guidance to executive agencies or internal to OMB pertaining to travel during the shutdown? If so, please provide this guidance. Please also indicate how this guidance pertained to travel by senior federal officials and how the shutdown impacted procedures and personnel responsibilities regarding travel by senior federal officials.
  • Please outline the process by which travel was approved, disapproved, or cancelled and the officials responsible for making decisions regarding the need to travel during this period.
  • Please provide the number of trips senior officials took (including by air, rail, or rental vehicle), the cost of each trip, and why the trip was necessary. Please also include any travel by agency employees traveling in support of the senior federal official.
    • Of trips by senior federal officials, how many took place on commercial flights and, of these, how many involved premium-class travel (e.g. first-class or business-class)? How many took place aboard government aircraft, as defined in the FTR?
    • For each trip by a senior federal official or employee acting in support of the official, please provide the purpose, itinerary, mode and class of travel, whether travel was on a government or commercial vehicle, and an accounting of all expenses incurred.
    • Please include comprehensive records for each trip by a senior federal official or employee acting in support of the official, including, but not limited to, travel vouchers without redactions, cost estimates for travel aboard government aircraft, memorandums related to premium-class or government aircraft travel, and any other documents related to costs not captured by these documents. 
  • How many pre-scheduled trips involving senior federal officials or employees acting in support of the official were canceled during the partial government shutdown? Please provide the total cost of each such trip, including any reimbursement or cancellation charges, as well as a comparison to the estimated cost had these trips not been canceled.
  • It was reported that the Administration canceled a planned trip by the President and other senior federal officials to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. For all agency employees, please provide records and costs for any completed or canceled travel pertaining to this trip, including any travel undertaken in preparation for the Forum.  

I request that you respond to the above questions on or before March 20, 2019.

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