Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg has already been widely criticized for his apparent incompetence in dealing with several transportation-related crises over the past two years, and now his critics can add blatant hypocrisy and potentially even corruption to the mix as well.
Buttigieg has come under fire from a watchdog group and is subject to an inspector general investigation for frequently using government-owned private jets for his travel while simultaneously lecturing Americans about climate change and the dire need to reduce carbon output, the Conservative Brief reported.
Fox News reported in December that a government watchdog group known as Americans for Public Trust had called out Sec. Buttigieg for taking at least 18 flights on private jets owned by the Federal Aviation Administration instead of flying on commercial airlines.
The flights generally seemed to align with the secretary's public schedule and visits to certain states to highlight federal grants for infrastructure projects and other official business, though on at least some occasions it also appears that Buttigieg mixed personal affairs in on those otherwise official trips, and some of those private jet flights were to foreign nations.
The outlet noted that Buttigieg's predecessor, former Transporation Sec. Elaine Chao, had been sharply criticized for using the FAA jets a few times in 2017, and former Health and Human Services Sec. Tom Price was even forced to resign over his own frequent use of private jets for both business and personal travel.
"Everyday Americans face flight [cancellations] and long wait times because Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has completely mismanaged air travel," APT executive director Caitlin Sutherland told Fox News at the time of that report. "Yet, he gets to avoid all that by taking taxpayer-funded private jets to destinations with readily available commercial airline options."
"And for someone so holier-than-thou on reducing emissions, Buttigieg sure doesn’t seem to mind the pollution caused by his literal jet-setting," she added. "This is hypocrisy at its finest, and these troubling expenses to taxpayers must come under immediate scrutiny."
That Fox News report in December cited a DOT spokesperson as defending Sec. Buttigieg's use of private jets as no big deal since he more often than not flew commercial, and also suggested it was ok because there were times when it was deemed to be "more efficient and/or less expensive" for him and others to use the private jets instead of commercial planes for his travel.
It is unclear how much the private flights for Buttigieg cost taxpayers in comparison to commercial flights, and it is worth noting that while the use of private jets by government officials certainly isn't prohibited, federal law nonetheless requires that all flights be made in the most efficient and cheapest manner possible.
The issue raised by the watchdog group may now result in some trouble for Buttigieg, as Fox News reported separately on Monday that the DOT inspector general has launched an audit of the secretary's private jet usage.
APT's Sutherland told the outlet on Monday, "After Americans for Public Trust helped determine Secretary Buttigieg’s excessive use of taxpayer-funded government jets, we are pleased to see that his air travel is now under investigation."
"Everyday Americans have faced unprecedented flight cancelations and disruptions, but Buttigieg has continued to fly private, even on a Coast Guard plane and even when commercial options were readily available," she added.
For what it is worth, in response to the news of the inspector general's audit, a DOT spokesperson told Fox News, "We welcome this independent audit moving forward in order to put some of the false, outlandish, and cynical claims about the Secretary’s mode of travel to rest. The fact remains that he flies commercially the vast majority of the time."
Sec. Buttigieg himself said in a tweet on Monday, "Glad this will be reviewed independently so misleading narratives can be put to rest. Bottom line: I mostly fly on commercial flights, in economy class. And when I do use our agency’s aircraft, it’s usually a situation where doing so saves taxpayer money."