The inspector general of his department is currently looking into the jet-setting Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s usage of taxpayer-funded private planes on more than a dozen occasions.
DOT watchdog Charles Ward announced plans to investigate Buttigieg’s use of FAA aircraft for official travel in a report he released on Monday.
Elaine Chao, the 41-year-old and was his predecessor will also be subject to an audit for using the same government jet, according to Ward.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is looking into whether Buttigieg’s use of FAA aircraft for at least 18 international and domestic trips since assuming office complies with federal regulations and DOT standards and procedures, requested the investigation in December.
“We will conduct an audit to determine whether the Office of the Secretary complied with Federal regulations, policies, and procedures regarding executive travel on DOT aircraft. The audit will focus on official trips taken since January 31, 2017. We plan to begin this audit shortly”.
A Buttigieg representative stated on Monday that the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, utilized the private FAA planes when it was “more cost effective” than taking a commercial flight.
“We welcome this independent audit moving forward in order to put some of the false, outlandish, and cynical claims about the Secretary’s mode of travel to rest,” the spokesperson remarked.
“The fact remains that he flies commercially the vast majority of the time. The exceptions have been when the Department’s career ethics officials, who have served under both Democratic and Republican administrations, determined that the use of a 9-seat FAA plane would be either more cost effective or should be approved for exceptional scheduling or security reasons.”
In a Monday tweet, Buttigieg expressed his satisfaction with the inspector general’s investigation.
“Glad this will be reviewed independently so misleading narratives can be put to rest. 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,” said Buttigieg.
Every flight segment made possible by the FAA’s fleet of aircraft is separately counted. So, based on the DOT, Buttigieg’s 18 flight segments correspond to a total of seven flights that will be assessed.
According to the Transportation Department, using FAA aircraft was less expensive than flying commercially on all but one trip. According to DOT, Buttigieg and his staff’s flights cost a total of $41,905.20.
Chao came under fire for making seven uses of the same fleet in 2017, at an estimated cost to the taxpayers of about $94,000. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned that same year when it came to light that he had taken 26 private flights at a cost to the taxpayers of roughly $1.2 million.
Among Buttigieg’s private flight excursions were flights to Nevada, Florida, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Ohio, and New Hampshire. In September 2022, he also traveled to Montreal to attend a session of the International Civil Aviation Organization.
Republicans have been deeply critical of the transportation secretary in previous weeks for how he handled the train incident in East Palestine, Ohio on February 3 that released dangerous chemicals into the environment.
Since the disaster, Rubio has urged President Biden to fire Buttigieg for what the senator called his “gross level of incompetence and apathy.”