Federal officials and employees have never been shy about mixing personal travel with official business and sticking taxpayers with the tab.
Last summer, an internal audit revealed that top executives at the Internal Revenue Service were spending hundreds of thousands of tax dollars commuting to Washington from their homes across the country, instead of living in D.C.
Then a report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) showed that many of these top executives who travel extensively for work are skirting the law and not paying income tax on their hefty travel reimbursements, as ordinary Americans are required to do.
Now we learn that Senior Justice Department officials including Attorney General Eric Holder and former FBI Director Robert Mueller used federal aircraft for hundreds of personal trips that were not properly reported, according to a report by Congress’s nonpartisan Government Accountability office issued this week.
GAO found that Holder, Mueller and other Justice Department executives took 395 unclassified, non-mission flights between fiscal years 2009 and 2001. GAO determined that the flights cost taxpayers $7.8 million. But the General Services Administration, which oversees such trips, did not require documentation because of a GSA reporting exemption that covers intelligence agencies, even in cases of unclassified personal travel.
The GAO report states that the reporting exemption applied to the FBI and other Justice Department agencies contradicts decades-old executive-branch requirements, specifically guidelines established by President Bill Clinton and the Office of Management and Budget. The report said GSA “has not provided a basis for deviating from executive branch requirements.”
“Specifically, executive branch documents—including Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-126, OMB Bulletin 93-11, and a 1993 presidential memorandum to the heads of all executive departments and agencies—require agencies to report to GSA, and for GSA to collect data, on senior federal official travel on government aircraft for non-mission purposes, except for trips that are classified,” the report stated. “Identifying an adequate basis for the intelligence agency reporting exemption or removing the exemption from its regulations if a basis cannot be identified could help GSA ensure its regulations for senior federal official travel comply with executive branch requirements.”
The findings were released on Thursday and came out nearly 19 months after Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas and other Republican lawmakers began questioning Holder’s use of an FBI jet for travel unrelated to Justice Department work. On security grounds, the attorney general is required to use non-commercial flights – and has access to Defense Department jets. But he and other DOJ officials must reimburse the government for personal trips – which they did not in the trips cited in the GAO report.
The lawmakers said at the time they requested the GAO review they were concerned that Holder’s use of FBI aircraft, which is supposed to be reserved for the agency’s own operations, could hinder the agency’s operations. Since the FBI always has to have a plane on standby for emergency purposes, the agency has had to lease another aircraft while theirs was being used to ferry Justice Department officials, the lawmakers said.
The new report doesn’t provide any details on the personal travel by Holder, Mueller and others uncovered in the investigation.
GSA officials have promised to eliminate the intelligence exemption applying to non-mission, unclassified travel. The agency also plans to begin documenting those trips in its regular reports on travel by senior federal officials. The Justice Department hasn’t responded to a request by The Fiscal Times for a comment on the report.
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