Tax dol­lars take flight

The Day - - OPINION -

Now that for­mer health and hu­man ser­vices sec­re­tary Tom Price has been drummed out of govern­ment for swan­ning around the na­tion in pri­vate planes at ex­or­bi­tant ex­pense to tax­pay­ers, other mem­bers of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion are jock­ey­ing to claim the man­tle of haugh­ti­est Cabi­net mem­ber.

Among the lead­ing con­tenders is In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke, who seems to have learned con­tempt for the peo­ple who pay his salary at the knee of Price. Zinke thought noth­ing of spend­ing $12,375 on a char­ter flight from Las Ve­gas, where he spoke at the be­hest of a po­lit­i­cal pa­tron, to his home state of Mon­tana in June. He waved away crit­i­cism of the flight as “a lit­tle B.S. over travel.”

For starters, Zinke should pay back the govern­ment the $12,375, which he’s not likely to mind since he clearly re­gards the amount as triv­ial — or, as he would put it, just “a lit­tle B.S.”

Not ev­ery­one would be com­fort­able help­ing him­self to the con­tents of Un­cle Sam’s pock­ets, but to a fel­low of Zinke’s ar­ro­gance it ap­pears to be no big deal. As a Navy SEAL in the late 1990s, he was forced to re­im­burse the govern­ment af­ter im­prop­erly billing travel ex­penses, an in­ci­dent that tem­po­rar­ily blocked his pro­mo­tion at the time. He claimed to have learned a les­son from that episode, and now says pi­ously that “tax­pay­ers ab­so­lutely have the right to know of­fi­cial travel costs.” Yet he doesn’t seem to mind if they know he has bilked them.

Along­side other Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion Cabi­net mem­bers, Zinke’s high and mighty travel spend­ing isn’t very ex­cep­tional. En­ergy Sec­re­tary Rick Perry, Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Sec­re­tary David Shulkin and Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin are among at least seven Cabi­net-level of­fi­cials who have shunned the ple­beian con­fines of read­ily avail­able com­mer­cial planes. In­stead they used pri­vate jets and mil­i­tary flights at pub­lic ex­pense, some­times to smart des­ti­na­tions in Europe and some­times ac­com­pa­nied by their spouses — all at a to­tal cost of mil­lions of dol­lars.

Mnuchin took a govern­ment jet to Ken­tucky to visit Fort Knox this sum­mer, where he watched the so­lar eclipse.

It might be worth the trou­ble to tighten the lan­guage in govern­ment reg­u­la­tions to make it clear that com­mer­cial flights, ex­cept in ex­tra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stances, are ad­e­quate for the mor­tals who oc­cupy govern­ment po­si­tions. De­spite the umpteen-zil­lion words de­voted to the sub­ject in the Fed­eral Travel Reg­u­la­tion, this sim­ple prin­ci­ple ap­pears to have got­ten lost.

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