Energy Secretary Rick Perry is the latest Trump administration official to be linked to costly spending and travel habits. The Energy Department says it spent approximately $63,500 on Perry’s flights alone during his first seven months heading the agency.
According to internal tracking conducted regularly by the Energy Department, Perry took 12 business or first class flights during the 2017 fiscal year, ABC reported Thursday after obtaining the department’s travel logs. Despite the availability of coach fares on all of the flights disclosed, the department paid for Perry’s upgraded travel — adding $51,000 to the total cost in the process.
According to federal guidelines, officials are meant to opt for low-cost travel whenever possible, choosing more expensive alternatives only in rare circumstances.
It is not clear what “exceptional security circumstances” — which can be used to justify such expenses — might have prompted the uptick in Perry’s travel costs. ABC reported that the logs obtained also show Anita Perry, the secretary’s wife, flew business class as well on at least two of the trips. Her seats cost approximately $20,000 and were reimbursed, seemingly by Anita Perry or her husband, according to agency spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes, per ABC.
Information regarding the specific dates and destinations for Rick Perry’s trips were not immediately made available. Last year, the secretary visited Japan and China along with a number of other destinations both domestic and international.
Swirling questions regarding spending habits are nothing new for the Trump administration. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price have both faced scrutiny over their spending habits, particularly with regard to flights. Price was later forced to resign amid uproar over his travel costs.
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has also come under fire for department financial decisions. Zinke has taken a number of military and chartered flights while conducting official government business. Taxpayers paid $12,375 for only one of those flights, which took Zinke from Las Vegas, Nevada, to Kalispell, Montana, which is located near the secretary’s hometown, Whitefish. The secretary overall spent more than $14,000 on government helicopters last summer, with some of the destinations including areas a short half-hour drive from Washington, D.C.
Zinke’s other spending habits, including the construction of a $139,000 door, have drawn criticism as well.
Arguably the Trump administration official facing the most scrutiny over spending is Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt. In February, the Washington Post reported that Pruitt had spent approximately $90,000 on first-class and business travel in June 2017 alone. That total includes a $36,068.50 trip from Cincinnati to New York in order to fly to Rome. Pruitt’s individual total for that trip amounted to $7,003.52, several times the amount paid for other staffers accompanying the official.
Pruitt is currently the subject of at least 14 federal investigations after coming under fire for a sweetheart condo deal last year arranged with the wife of an energy lobbyist was revealed at the end of March. The EPA also paid $43,000 for a sound-proof phone booth in the secretary’s office, which was found to have violated ethics rules. Pruitt additionally approved high raises for certain members of staff with prior experience working for him in Oklahoma.
Pruitt has largely downplayed his culpability in the various instances under investigation, largely leveling blame at his staff and critics. In an interview Wednesday with the Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Boris Epshteyn, Pruitt argued that he valued taxpayer money — which ultimately is what pays for government activities including travel — but indicated that criticisms surrounding his spending habits were “distractions” more so than real areas of concern.
“Well, look, I care so much about taxpayer money,” Pruitt said. “It’s what I’ve done historically when I served at the state level. It’s important that serving this capacity that everyone is a good steward of taxpayer money, but these distractions, these issues that we’ve dealt with largely it emanated from the great work that we’ve been doing.”