The inspector general that oversees the Transportation Department is auditing Pete Buttigieg’s use of government planes since becoming Transportation secretary — a move Buttigieg says he welcomes to help blunt what he called “misleading narratives” from conservatives about whether he abuses them.
“Glad this will be reviewed independently so misleading narratives can be put to rest,” Buttigieg tweeted. “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.” DOT spokesperson Kerry Arndt added that Buttigieg “flies commercially the vast majority of the time.”
The Transportation Department’s inspector general announced on Monday that it will audit his travel; the news was first reported by the Washington Post. The IG probe stems from a Fox News article in December outlining that Buttigieg had used planes owned by the Federal Aviation Administration 18 times since taking office, a practice Buttigieg has defended. A spokesperson at that time told Fox News Digital that 108 of the 126 flights he had taken on official business had been via commercial airplanes.
DOT said in December that the 18 flights Fox News highlighted — to destinations that included Las Vegas, Montreal and Oklahoma — cost taxpayers just under $42,000. The audit was originally requested by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) who has since called for Buttigieg’s resignation over his handling of the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
Any government official can use the fleet, if they can demonstrate to the satisfaction of the agency’s ethics department that the flights will be more cost-effective than flying commercial, or for security or scheduling reasons. FEMA officials and National Transportation Safety Board accident investigators are typically frequent users of the planes, and it is not unusual for top DOT and FAA officials, as well as the heads of other agencies, to use them when warranted.
In 2018, POLITICO reported that former DOT Secretary Elaine Chao took the same FAA-owned planes on seven trips, costing taxpayers an estimated $93,977, including a $68,892 trip to and around Europe for her and five staffers.
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