The Department of Transportation (DOT) has declined repeated requests for information regarding the taxpayer costs of 23 flights.
The DOT and the agency’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) office both declined to detail how much each of the flights cost taxpayers over the course of several months and in recent weeks. The withholding of information comes during an ongoing inspector general audit of Buttigieg’s use of the planes, which are part of a small fleet managed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
“It is inexcusable that Secretary Buttigieg’s desk is hiding the detailed cost of these taxpayer-funded flights,” Caitlin Sutherland, the executive director of watchdog group Americans for Public Trust, told Fox News Digital. “Federal law dictates the timely release of exactly these kinds of documents to the public.”
“The American people have a right to know the true cost of Buttigieg and his entourage of staffers flying privately to destinations that have readily available commercial options.”
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Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks at a news conference in Memphis, Tennessee, on Nov. 29, 2022. (Lucy Garrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
On Feb. 27, the DOT’s inspector general announced it would investigate whether Buttigieg’s office has complied with federal laws regarding executive travel on DOT aircraft for official travel. The probe was requested by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in response to a Fox News Digital report in December that showed Buttigieg had made 18 trips on FAA aircraft since January 2021.
Following the December 12 report, Fox News Digital filed a FOIA request for detailed information and costs of all flights recorded by FAA aircraft since early 2021. For months, the DOT FOIA office repeatedly delayed providing the requested information, citing various reasons, including the occasion when a key employee was out of the office, until Feb. 27, hours after the Inspector General’s investigation was announced.
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The information showed that, in addition to Buttigieg’s 18 flights, his advisers and communications team recorded a further three flights. However, the FOIA office chose to leave the costs associated with all flights with Buttigieg and his advisors blank and ignored multiple attempts for clarification.
Like Sutherland, Michael Chamberlain, the director of another watchdog group Protect the Public’s Trust, expressed concern over the agency’s apparent attempt to hide information from the public.
“We welcome this independent audit in the future to lay to rest some of the false, bizarre and cynical claims made about the Minister’s mode of travel. The fact remains that he flies commercially most of the time,” said a DOT official. spokesman. on Feb. 27 after the agency’s inspector general announced an investigation into Buttigieg. (AP Photo / Matt Freed)
“Unfortunately, reports of unnecessary secrecy and selective disclosure of information are all too common when discussing the self-proclaimed most transparent government in history,” Chamberlain told Fox News Digital. “And it seems that the more high-profile the issue or event, the greater the effort to hide the information that the public deserves to know.”
“Contrary to what some agencies seem to believe, saving powerful officials from exposure or embarrassment is not a legitimate reason to keep the public in the dark,” he continued.
“Given the potential misuse of taxpayers’ money in question, a necessary first step to restoring public confidence in the government is for the Department of Transport to clarify exactly how much taxpayers’ money has been used to fly Secretary Buttigieg around on non- commercial flights.”
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DOT spokesperson Kerry Arndt declined to comment, but cited a Washington Post report that the total cost of 18 flights with Buttigieg as a passenger was “about $42,000.” That estimate did not take into account Buttigieg’s travels on a Coast Guard plane or the flights his closest advisers, including Arndt, took on FAA planes without him.
Transport Minister Pete Buttigieg and Chasten Buttigieg attend a reception ahead of the start of the Invictus Games on April 15, 2022 in The Hague, Netherlands. The couple took a military plane to the event. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation)
Meanwhile, the agency has been charging other agencies significantly more for flights on the same aircraft. For example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) paid $327,478 to the FAA for eight trips and a total of 27 flights to the sites of natural disasters in 2021 and 2022.
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In one case, the FAA charged FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell and other officials $51,139 for a June round trip from Washington, D.C., to Montana, where catastrophic flooding had occurred. In September, the FAA charged FEMA $69,028 for flights to and from Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona.
“Because FAA already has budgets for operating, maintaining and leasing its fleet for core missions, the use of an FAA aircraft by DOT officials incurs marginal operating costs,” the FAA said in a statement to Fox News Digital. .
Elaine Chao, Buttigieg’s predecessor, who led the DOT during the Trump administration, was criticized after it was revealed that she used government-owned aircraft seven times in 2017, costing taxpayers about $94,000. At the time, the agency released detailed cost information in response to a FOIA request from a watchdog organization.
Thomas Catenacci is a political writer for Fox News Digital.