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October 31, 2008

You make the call: is AG Mukasey's costly personal travel important?

I am not quite sure what to make of this new story from McClatchy Newspapers, headlined "Attorney general's private trips have cost taxpayers $155,800."  Here are some details:

Attorney General Michael Mukasey has taken personal trips on government jets almost every weekend since he took office less than a year ago at a cost to taxpayers of more than $155,800, Justice Department and Federal Aviation Administration travel records show.  From November 2007 to September 2008, Mukasey traveled home to New York 45 times, according to the records, which were released recently in response to open records requests that McClatchy filed nine months ago.

Justice Department officials defended Mukasey's personal travel, saying he has no choice but to fly on a government plane to see his family.  Mukasey, unlike most other Cabinet members, is required to fly on government planes, rather than commercial ones, for security reasons. "When he travels personally, the attorney general pays what any other government official would pay for a commercial flight to that location," Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said in a statement. "It would be unfair to penalize financially the attorney general because he is one of the few government officials required to use government aircraft for all travel."

Mukasey traveled with his wife on 17 of the trips, and eight of them were with four or five other relatives.  Most of the trips with his wife and other relatives were one-way between New York and Washington.  Mukasey reimbursed the government a total of $15,246 for all of his trips, based on round-trip coach fares, as he's required to do by government travel regulations.  However, the cost of operating the Gulfstream G5s, Cessna Citations and de Havilland Dash 8-100s that Mukasey uses is tens of thousands of dollars more....

In February, Mukasey flew to Orlando, Fla. with his wife and four other relatives.  Under travel regulations, officials who are required to travel by government aircraft are permitted to take relatives with them as long as they reimburse the taxpayers for the equivalent coach fare, which Mukasey did, officials said.  For that trip, he paid $2,173. The actual cost to the government, according to the Justice Department: $12,250.

Mukasey's personal trips appear to outpace those of other officials who are required to travel on government jets. During the same time period, Defense Secretary Robert Gates took fewer than six personal trips, and he also reimbursed the government at coach fares.... Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who became one of the few officials required to fly on a government plane in 2004, didn't appear to have taken any personal trips in the last fiscal year, according to FAA records. His staff said he's taken about three personal trips a year during his four-year tenure and also has reimbursed the government for them at coach fare....

A congressional official said that last year Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took 17 trips to her district on military planes. Pelosi isn't required to reimburse the taxpayers because such travel is considered official. The official asked to remain anonymous because such information isn't readily available to the public and Congress is exempt from open-records laws....

Paul Orfanedes of the government watchdog group Judicial Watch said that Mukasey's personal travel appears excessive. "Taking personal trips almost every weekend, at substantial cost to taxpayers, seems like an abuse of the privileges of office," said Orfanedes, who heads Judicial Watch's Litigation Department, which has sued both Democratic and Republican administrations for information under open-records laws.

The story is quite well done and makes for a very interesting read.  But as one who understands the lure of personal travel for family reasons, I have a hard time faulting AG Mukasey for his costly travel activities.  Still, at a time when everyone is justifiably concerned about government spending, this story could have legs.  But, dear reader, I ask you: should this be an important story?

October 31, 2008 at 11:06 AM | Permalink

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Comments

"Should this be an important story?"

No.

Posted by: Daniel | Oct 31, 2008 11:55:45 AM

Since Judge Mukasey took the tail end of the terminal AG position, it made no sense to uproot his family to Washington, as others might do if they served a full term or more. Still, he's entitled to see his family once a week, like any normal person.

It is therefore different for him to travel home on weekends then it might be for others, and he's left with no choice but to use a government plane.

He's done plenty to subject himself to criticism. This just isn't one of those things. He should be left alone on this one.

Posted by: shg | Oct 31, 2008 12:38:23 PM

Not important. The people making a big deal out of this are posturing hacks.

Posted by: | Oct 31, 2008 1:36:37 PM

This is just another example of the profligacy of this administration. I would be more sympathetic if Mukasey had not flown a number of relatives down with him. The appropriate thing for him to do is fly down on the government dollar himself with his family flying down on commercials flights.

Posted by: | Oct 31, 2008 4:58:48 PM

On the family issue, my understanding of such private jets is that it really doesn't matter how many people you put on the plane (so long as you stay under the load limit of course) so flying one person (the AG) or 5 (the AG plus family) seems like a wash.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Oct 31, 2008 7:11:56 PM

Same thought as Soronel Haetir. 4:58:48's suggestion is a waste of fuel, a waste of money, and it would needlessly cut into the time Mukasey could spend with his family. If he'd put relatives on separate government flights at taxpayer expense, that might be an issue, but that's not my understanding of what happened.

Posted by: | Nov 1, 2008 5:31:04 PM

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