October 22, 2019

Duckworth, Peters Re-Introduce Good Government Legislation to Require Public Disclosure of Trump Administration’s Travel Spending

Several Trump Administration officials, including former Secretaries Zinke, Price and Pruitt, have resigned following travel scandals


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Gary Peters (D-MI) re-introduced legislation today to help ensure the Trump Administration—and any future administration—spends taxpayer dollars more responsibly. The Federal Travel Transparency Act would increase transparency and oversight by making the air travel activities of cabinet secretaries and agency leaders available to the public online and requiring that the data be in an open, easily accessible format. Peters serves as the Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC), which has jurisdiction over the issue. U.S Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) are also co-sponsoring the legislation.

“Every public servant has a responsibility to be a good steward of public dollars but it’s clear that Donald Trump and his Cabinet secretaries do not always see it that way,” said Duckworth. “When Trump Administration officials spend thousands of taxpayer dollars to charter a private or military plane or purchase a first-class ticket, they should—at the very least—be required to disclose and justify their expensive travel practices to the American people who are bankrolling it. By proactively shining a light on the travel practices of top Trump officials, our legislation would strengthen oversight and accountability of individuals who abuse their positions of power, and hopefully, shame a few Trump political appointees into avoiding such wasteful spending in the first place.”

“Public service is a privilege, and federal officials traveling on the taxpayers’ dime owe it to the American people to ensure that they do so in the most cost-effective and responsible manner possible,” said Peters. “I’m proud to sponsor this commonsense bill, which will shine a light on government travel spending and ensure that taxpayer funds are always used effectively and efficiently.”

When cabinet officials travel on the taxpayer dime, the American people deserve to have confidence that their tax dollars are being spent responsibly,” said Senator Carper, top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee. “Since the very beginning of the Trump Administration, a dizzying array of cabinet officials have violated public trust by improperly spending taxpayer funds on flights, sometimes for lavish trips with little to no connection to their official duties. This flagrant abuse of position has been put on full display at EPA, where former Administrator Pruitt was found to have wasted more than $120,000 on business and first class flights as part of his nearly $1 million of travel expenses in just his first 10 months at the agency. Unfairly, Americans are still on the hook for Mr. Pruitt’s lavish travel and the many extravagant habits he left on the taxpayer’s tab. This legislation would help prevent such abuses from happening again by increasing transparency and holding both current and future cabinet officials accountable. I’m proud to join Senator Duckworth on this important measure.”

“The fish rots from the head so it’s no surprise that cabinet officials of the most corrupt presidency have followed their boss’s lead by putting their own interests above the American people,” Wyden said. “Americans have a right to know when Trump officials are jet setting on the taxpayers’ dime.”

Senator Duckworth and Peters’ good government legislation does not seek to reinvent the wheel on travel rules and would avoid establishing new bureaucracies or offices. It would simply require the government to publicly disclose, on a quarterly basis, the official air travel activities of agency leadership, including the duration, destination(s), travel party, justification and costs of official travel on an existing website such as USASpending.gov. That would save the government from having to expend resources responding to numerous FOIA requests for agency leadership travel information, while pushing top administration officials to make better official travel decisions and allow the public to track how its taxpayer dollars are being spent. USASpending.gov was created by the bipartisan Coburn-Obama Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, which then-U.S. Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) passed to increase transparency of federal spending.

The Federal Travel Transparency Act follows a number of reports revealing Trump Cabinet Secretaries have spent an exorbitant amount of taxpayer dollars to fly themselves around the country and the world on private and military planes and in first-class:

  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spent nearly $1 million dollars to charter eight flights on U.S. military planes, and he even requested the use of a military aircraft to fly him and his wife around Europe on their honeymoon before withdrawing his request after coming under public scrutiny.
  • Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was found to have violated federal travel policy for mixing government travel with political events.
  • Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was forced to resign last year after it was reported that he spent more than $163,000 of taxpayer dollars on air travel in 2017, including $105,000 on first class seats that he insists are necessary for his security. The EPA Inspector General later recommended that $123,942 be recovered by the federal government for costs associated with his first-class travel.
  • Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was also forced to resign after reports revealed he unnecessarily spent more than $1 million to travel on dozens of private and government planes instead of taking cheaper, widely available commercial alternatives.

The Federal Travel Transparency Act has been endorsed by the Sunlight Foundation and the Project On Government Oversight (POGO). More information on the Federal Travel Transparency Act is available here and here. A list of the positions in the administration it would apply to is available here.