Here we go again. In the latest development related to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg's string of controversies involving his role and travels, Fox News is reporting that the former small city mayor took taxpayer-funded government jet flights between Washington, DC and New York City last spring. Here are some of the details, which the Biden administration is justifying as having arisen from 'last minute' schedule changes:
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg took a government-managed jet to New York City in April for a radio interview and two brief meetings before returning hours later, Fox News Digital has learned. On April 7, Buttigieg flew on a government jet operated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C., to a small executive airport near New York City, according to internal agency calendars obtained by Americans for Public Trust (APT) and shared with Fox News Digital. Later that same day, Buttigieg returned to Washington, D.C., on the same jet, a Cessna Citation 560XL, to attend a White House meeting. During the short trip, Buttigieg had a 40-minute meeting with Deborah Archer, the president of the American Civil Liberties Union, and a 20-minute meeting with Department of Transportation (DOT) employees, his calendar showed. He was also interviewed for nearly an hour on the radio program "Breakfast Club." While he took a government jet for the trip, Buttigieg traveled again to New York City via commercial airline one day later on April 8 before returning to Washington, D.C., via train in the evening. During the April 8 trip, the transportation secretary attended a convention hosted by the National Action Network, a civil rights group founded by MSNBC host Rev. Al Sharpton, and was interviewed on daytime talk show "The View."
The primary purposes of these trips appears to be media appearances, in addition to a short meeting with the leader of a left-wing organization, and an ultra-quick 'hello' with DOT employees -- which may have been scheduled as one of the "official business" fig leaves used to backstop the pair of visits. There is value in appearing in-person on certain media programs, but one might think that a government official who's ostensibly laser-focused on climate change as an urgent existential threat to the planet might make choices with much smaller carbon footprints, such as using a phone or satellite connection to conduct podcast and television interviews. This is the official explanation offered up by the Department of Transportation, with some useful added context from the Fox report:
The plane, though, would have burned an estimated $1,060 worth of fuel, according to Energy Information Administration data from April. And previous DOT records released during the Trump administration showed the FAA charged the DOT $2,095 total for a flight from Washington, D.C., to the New York City area, and a return flight on the same jet in June 2017...When asked about Buttigieg's various transportation choices over the course of the two days in April, the DOT blamed a last-minute White House meeting. The agency also asserted that it was charged just $228 per flight for Buttigieg's seat on the FAA jet, making it the most cost-effective mode of transportation available. By comparison, American Airlines charges government officials $48 to travel between the two cities, according to the General Services Administration which has contracts with various airlines under its City Pair Program. The program is designed to ensure low prices for official federal government travel. Meanwhile, Buttigieg's predecessor Elaine Chao, who led the DOT throughout the Trump administration, was criticized after it was revealed she used government-managed planes on seven occasions in 2017, costing taxpayers about $94,000. Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was forced to resign after it was reported he had cost taxpayers more than $1 million using government jets.
It has been reported that Buttigieg has flown on these types of flights to various destinations at least 18 times over the course of the Biden presidency, which is less than two years old. As someone who travels between DC and New York on a very regular basis, I can attest that there are numerous methods of transportation between those two cities, including dozens of available and inexpensive flights (on multiple airlines, between multiple airports) every day, plus an array of rail options, in addition to road-based solutions. Based on the program described in the article, it seems as though government rates are quite cheap, certainly compared to the prices paid by normal travelers. With more context, that $228 per seat statistic doesn't really paint a full picture, does it? There's also the optics component, given the criticism that some Trump administration officials garnered for traveling on chartered government jets, resulting in one cabinet secretary's resignation.
In addition, the Biden administration is supposed to be extremely concerned about climate change and carbon emissions, an alleged priority that ought to be reflected in their own actions and decisions, even if 'green' alternatives are slightly less convenient. Buttigieg is also serving as Secretary of Transportation during an era in which average American travelers have experienced an unusually high volume of frustrating disruptions; perhaps he should be more intentional about using methods of transportation available to the public as a hard-and-fast rule. Buttigieg has come under fire for a number of his personal and official travel choices, as well as other elements of his job. He defended himself in a recent Special Report interview with Bret Baier, earning kudos from online leftists who clapped along like trained seals as Buttigieg supposedly "shut down" Fox, or whatever. I'd agree that certain criticisms of Buttigieg have struck me as thin or baseless, overall. For instance, his role in leading a presidential delegation to an overseas event is hardly unusual. And few Americans would begrudge a new father taking parental leave, particularly with his child facing significant medical challenges.
Then again, it's not surprising that some eyebrows would be raised by any cabinet secretary taking extended leave for any reason amidst a major crisis in his or her portfolio. Not taking normal time away is part of the gig when it comes to serving at the highest levels of government. The private/government jets questions also strike me as fair, from a taxpayer funds and environmental hypocrisy perspective. And it's not unreasonable for detractors to rap Buttigieg's hands-off approach in the early-to-middle stages of the recent Southwest Airlines meltdown, having previously assured Americans that the holidays would see fairly smooth sailing. Nor is it out of bounds to question why Buttigieg chose to take an international vacation in the lead-up to a potentially crippling rail strike, even if it was a quasi-working holiday. 'Public service,' as it's so often called by those in power, has its perks -- but it also comes with sacrifices, some of which may put a crimp in one's style or alter preferred paths. In short, some of the questions and critiques surrounding the Transportation Secretary may be overblown, unfair, or explainable in isolation. Taken together, however, they're becoming something of a damaging narrative, and not without reason. I'll leave you with this incredible display of bold leadership from yesterday:
.@POTUS was briefed by @SecretaryPete early this morning. @POTUS directed DOT/FAA to restore the system quickly and safely, and to determine causes. @SecretaryPete will provide @POTUS an update later this morning.— Ronald Klain (@WHCOS) January 11, 2023
A briefing, followed by a directive to "restore the system" -- but not just that. To restore it "quickly and safely." Thank heavens for these visionaries.