Senator Questions Executive Travel During Shutdown

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., demanded information from the White House budget chief and acting chief of staff. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., demanded information from the White House budget chief and acting chief of staff. Andrew Harnik/AP

In the latest in Congress’s ongoing lookback at the recent 35-day partial government shutdown, a ranking senator on Thursday sent letters to multiple agencies seeking documents on official travel.

Citing past “scandals” and a “culture of wasteful spending” under the Trump administration, Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, wrote to White House Budget Director and acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney saying “as public officials, it is critical that we act as responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars, particularly when government employees and other taxpayers suffered as a direct result of a government shutdown.”

Peters noted that during the shutdown from Dec. 22-Jan. 25, “taxpayers across the nation were forced to adjust their own travel plans due to delays at major airports, a direct result of the shutdown” estimated to have cost the economy $11 billion. “Although senior federal officials adjusted some travel plans during the shutdown, new trips were also scheduled—for instance, a trip to Camp David for senior White House staff,” he added. “The full scope of travel at taxpayer expense during the shutdown remains unclear.”

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Copies were sent to the White House, Environmental Protection Agency, General Services Administration and the departments of State, Homeland Security, Treasury, Agriculture, Justice, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, and Transportation.

The senator asked to receive, by March 20, documents and explanations on official travel by senior federal officials, as defined in the Federal Travel Regulation, during the shutdown.

That would include the guidance used by agencies to approve travel, the number of trips taken during the appropriations lapse, and how the “shutdown impacted procedures and personnel responsibilities regarding travel by senior federal officials.”

Specifically, Peters asked for the “number of trips senior officials took (including by air, rail or rental vehicle), the cost of each trip, and why the trip was necessary,” as well as travel by accompanying support staff. How many of the trips, he asked, took place on commercial flights, premium-class travel, and how many on government aircraft?

 For each trip, the senator is seeking an explanation of the “purpose, itinerary, mode and class of travel,” as well as “comprehensive records,” such as travel vouchers and advance estimates—without redactions. He sought how many “pre-scheduled trips” by senior officials and staff were canceled during the shutdown and the estimated costs, citing in particular President Trump’s cancelled trip to the January World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

OMB did not respond to Government Executive requests for comment by publication time.

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