White House cracks down on executive travel

The same day Tom Price stepped down as secretary of Health and Human Services, the White House put out a memo reminding agency execs not to stick taxpayers with the tab for private travel.

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The same day Tom Price stepped down as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services after a controversy around his use of chartered private aircraft, the White House put out a memo reminding officials not to stick taxpayers with the tab for private travel.

Office of Management and Budget chief Mick Mulvaney reminded executive agency heads in a Sept. 29 memo that travel on government-owned, government-leased or chartered aircraft is only permitted with specific justifications outlined in the Federal Travel Regulations.

"Beyond the law and formal policy," Mulvaney wrote, "departments and agencies should recognize that we are public servants…. Put another way, just because something is legal doesn't make it right," he said.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly will be reviewing requests for such executive-style travel in the future, "except space-available travel and travel to meet mission requirements."

"With few exceptions, the commercial air system used by millions of Americans every day is appropriate, even for very senior officials," Mulvaney said.

Members of Congress are also seeking to crack down on luxury travel by federal officials.

Reps. Tom O'Halleran (D-Ariz.) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) introduced the Taxpayers Don't Incur Meaningless Expenses Act on Sept. 28. The bill would increase oversight on government travel and would tap the Office of Government Ethics to come up with ways to strengthen existing rules.

Other cabinet secretaries could find themselves in trouble over government travel. The inspector general of the Interior Department is probing whether agency Secretary Ryan Zinke made appropriate use of chartered aircraft on several trips.  Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt is also on the hot seat from congressional overseers and his agency's IG over charter flights around the American west, including to his home state of Oklahoma.

Additionally Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has been criticized for leisure activities on an overseas trip, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin drew fire for requesting a government jet to fly him and his wife on their honeymoon so that he could maintain access to secure communications throughout.