High-flying officials should repay taxpayers
Government officials routinely abused rules on premium-class air travel, an investigation has found.
With spending by the federal government usually measured in tens of billions, $146 million in excessive airfare seems a trifling amount. But few issues raise the hackles of taxpayers more than public officials flying high on their dime, which is what congressional investigators found in scores of instances over a one-year period.
A review of travel costs by the Government Accountability Office found that $230 million was spent on 53,000 premium-class tickets used by government executives and employees, and, in more than two-thirds of the cases, the upgrades were unauthorized or unjustified.
A serious repeat offender was an Agriculture Department official who took 25 first- or business-class flights costing $163,000. Ten of those trips, $62,000 worth, were to Western Europe, despite agency policy expressly forbidding premium-class travel to those destinations. The official claimed she had received her agency's OK, but the approval was given by a subordinate who was hardly in a position to say no to the boss.
The report showed that many tried to get around restrictions. For example, premium-class seats are allowed when flights exceed 14 hours, which prompted nine Justice Department employees to add a separate flight to their calculations to stretch their travel time -- and their leg room.
In another case, a political appointee at the Pentagon took 15 premium-class flights, citing surgery as justification for $105,000 in costs. But instead of the required physician's note, a fellow employee had signed off on the flights and it was later discovered the surgery had taken place several years earlier.
The report said senior officials, particularly political appointees who moved to government from corporate boardrooms, did not relish traveling with the hoi polloi and felt entitled to the upgrades. Be that as it may, they should be made to reimburse the treasury, as the GAO recommends.
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