How much does it cost for President Donald Trump‘s Cabinet members to travel? We’re about to find out.
Earlier this year, several Cabinet secretaries came under fire for using private or government aircraft for business travel. Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, used a private plane to go to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he attended a meeting and watched the eclipse.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao (who is also the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) took government planes seven times this year. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spent $12,000 on a private plane so that he could go to an event hosted by a campaign benefactor.
Then, of course, there’s Tom Price, who left his position in September following revelations that he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on private air travel during his tenure as head of the Department of Health and Human Services.
While it’s not illegal for high-level government officials to use private or government aircraft, it’s certainly frowned upon. Most Cabinet secretaries, with the exception of the secretary of state, as well as members of Congress and high-ranking military personnel, fly commercial unless there is no way they can get where they need to go in the timeframe they need to be there—or if they need to access secure communications while traveling or other security concerns. Price took private planes 24 times between May and September, putting his domestic travel expenses over $400,000, according to Politico. His international travel on military aircraft put the total bill for his travel around $1 million.
Price pledged to pay the department back for his seat on the domestic flights, but that figure adds up to only $51,887. While no other secretaries have chartered flights to the extent that Price did, it’s important to keep in mind that federal funds pay for their travel, and these officials have a responsibility to use that money judiciously.
In the interest of transparency, the Daily Dot has requested the travel records for all military and private chartered travel request for all Cabinet secretaries through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). A request for the travel records of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who travels on a government plane, is currently in the works.
Thus far, the Daily Dot has received records from U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, as well as a statement from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) claiming that no records exist related to Secretary Ben Carson’s military or private charter air travel. The Daily Dot has requested information related to his commercial travel as well, but we have not yet received any response to that request. You can see the documents we have received below:
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer
The records obtained through FOIA show that Rep. Lighthizer’s office spent $44,841.92 total (including per diems and hotels) on five trips abroad between May and September of this year. In some cases, Rep. Lighthizer requested business or first-class accommodations, rather than coach. For travel to Ottawa, Canada, to attend NAFTA talks, Lighthizer was approved for first-class travel, since he would need “sufficient time and space to prepare appropriate comments, actions (discussion points, etc.) and subsequent debriefings on the return that a coach seating will not accommodate,” according to the records.
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta
Secretary Acosta’s travel records show a few instances of government aircraft usage, on the first page of the document below. Many of the instances show the secretary riding on Air Force One with President Trump, or on Air Force Two with Vice President Mike Pence.
HUD Secretary Ben Carson
As the letter below states, the Department of Housing and Urban Development stated that it had no records responsive to the Daily Dot’s requested search. We have requested records relating to Secretary Carson’s commercial air travel.
Editor’s note: We will update this article as more departments respond to our FOIA requests.
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