Buttigieg’s flights on US government jets complied with federal rules, review finds

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A U.S. government watchdog said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s use of government airplanes on eight trips complied with all federal rules.

The Transportation Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) review released on Wednesday also found that flights made by his predecessor, Elaine Chao, on Federal Aviation Administration-operated (FAA) planes also complied with federal requirements.

The report said the department “complied with federal regulations, policies, and procedures regarding official travel by the secretaries on DOT aircraft from January 2017 to June 2023.”

Buttigieg’s eight trips included 22 flight legs on department jets which accounted for 11.6% of his official trips through June 30, while Chao’s accounted for 7.3%. A spokesperson for Chao declined to comment.

The FAA operates a fleet of 38 airplanes for aviation safety training; flight inspection; research, development, test and evaluation support; and critical event response.

Buttigieg said in September that he had taken 600 total airline flights since taking office.

A spokesperson for Buttigieg said that the U.S. Transportation secretary had “directed that travel and logistical decisions be grounded in efficient and responsible use of taxpayer dollars.” The OIG report said Buttigieg most recently used government planes for a Mexico City trip in June to meet with the Mexican president and in September 2022 to attend meetings of the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal. The Department of Transportation had cited security and communication needs for both trips.

Buttigieg’s government flights cost about $59,000 in total, while Chao’s flights cost $98,508, including $70,000 for a 2017 trip to the Paris air show. The report added there were no instances of non-federal officials onboard DOT aircraft during the Transportation secretaries’ official travel.

The spokesperson added: “the majority of times the FAA aircraft was used actually saved taxpayers money, including in instances that were required for exceptional scheduling needs.”

A 1992 White House memo allows senior government officials to travel on government aircraft, but with restrictions.

The review, launched in February, had been sought by Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who had asked if there had been any violations of Transportation Department policy.

(Reporting by David Shepardson in WashingtonEditing by Nick Zieminski and Matthew Lewis)