Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) met Henry A. Johnson, chairman of the board of Spiegel catalog company, only once before he arranged for Johnson to become a Senate staff consultant for a day so that Johnson could take a VIP military jet tour to an Air Force base near Omaha last year.
The half-day trip, which would have been about $350 on a commercial airline, cost the taxpayers an estimated $5,000.
Johnson, who hasn't seen the senator since, said he didn't know he had been listed briefly as a Senate Intelligence Committee staffer. "I guess it was the easy way to do it," he said. "Don't you ever cut corners?"
While Goldwater didn't join Johnson on the trip, a recent review of Pentagon travel records shows that the senator, a retired Air Force reserve general, is Congress' most frequent user of the military's VIP service. In the first nine months of 1982, the files show that he used military jets at least eight times to fly to military bases in this country. The cost: well over $100,000.
The 89th Military Airlift Wing, whose elite pilots and crew members fly senators and representatives, the president and military VIPs out of Andrews Air Force Base, piled up more than 12,000 hours in VIP travel last year, according to Air Force figures.
Those flights, ranging from trips around the world to short hops back to a congressional district, cost at least $33.5 million. The military escort officers on the trips furnish their guests with liquor, snacks and incidentals such as baggage tips from a contingency fund known as the "black bag" account. The Air Force's black bag fund is about $500,000 a year, with the Navy and Army budgeted at about $150,000 each, Pentagon officials said.
The 89th's charter states that its 22 planes "will not be used except when travel is in the national interest and commercial travel is not available or capable of meeting the movement requirement."
Although commercial flights often are available, a review of the records shows that last year at least 34 senators, 200 House members and 240 staffers, as well as numerous generals and admirals, were able to meet the movement requirement for the high-priced planes.
Air Force records show, for example, that last May the 89th dispatched an eight-passenger, four-engine C140 Jet Star to Bristol, Tenn. to pick up Rep. James H. Quillen (R-Tenn.) to get him back to Andrews in time to get on Air Force One with the president to fly back to Tennessee for the opening of the World's Fair in Knoxville, 120 miles from Bristol.
Although it hasn't kept the trip flight records, the Air Force estimates the flying time to Bristol at two hours. Thus a round trip in a C140 would have cost almost $7,500 at the official Pentagon operating cost of $1,868 an hour for a Jet Star. Pentagon auditors say the real cost of operating a C140 should include the crew's pay, and is thus $2,800 an hour. At that rate the Quillen pickup would have cost $11,200.
A commercial flight from Bristol to Washington costs about $150. A Quillen aide said a regularly scheduled jet wouldn't have gotten the congressman back to Washington in time to accompany the president.
In July, Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.) headed a trip to Europe that cost nearly $124,000 for the flight on one of the 89th's C137s, a Boeing 707 much like Air Force One. Three other senators and their wives and seven staff members accompanied Laxalt. The living expenses totaled about $25,000 for the group.
The first stop was in the Basque region of France, Laxalt's family home, for the Fourth of July weekend. The tentative itinerary included ballet shows, wind surfing, balloon rides and fireworks, but a Laxalt aide said nobody on the trip wind surfed or took a balloon ride. The group then went on to Rome, Budapest and London for military briefings and meetings with government officials before heading back home to write a report.
Members of Congress are not the only users of the lofty perquisite. The Defense Audit Service charged last fall that $28 million a year is spent to fly empty planes to pick up high-ranking military officers. The Pentagon auditors accused the brass of using the military planes as an "on-demand airline service" in flagrant disregard of directives from the Reagan Pentagon to cut costs.
The DAS audit found, for instance, that one general ordered up a C140 for a trip to Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha because it was faster than a T39. The switch saved the general 15 minutes in flight time and cost the taxpayers an extra $12,400, the DAS said.
It also cited the Air National Guard for using 12 aircraft to ferry 431 people to its bowling tournament in Nashville in 1981. Cost: $110,000. And it questioned the continued practice of flying cadets to service academy football games. In the fall of 1981, flights to two games cost $300,000.
In testimony before a House Government Operations subcommittee last fall, the General Accounting Office jumped on civilian government agencies as well. It cited such practices as leasing planes when they should have been bought, and vice versa, and failing to use regularly scheduled airlines.
At last count, the GAO said, the Justice, Interior, Agriculture and Treasury departments and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, among others, were spending about half a billion dollars a year on 700 planes.
While many of the planes are used in daily operations, the GAO found numerous others that were being used primarily to transport agency officials.
The GAO found, for instance, that Federal Aviation Administrator J. Lynn Helms used executive jets on all his business trips. The cost: $417,000, while commercial fares for the same flights would have been $13,000.
Goldwater aide Dennis P. Sharon, the senator's constant flying companion, said commercial flights were considered for Goldwater's trips, but rejected because of scheduling needs.
"The senator feels if he's going to these places on official business it's justified," he said, referring to the use of military planes.
Last Sept. 18, for example, Goldwater flew in a Navy A3 to Las Vegas and back at a cost of nearly $13,000 to attend a meeting of Navy pilots. Rep. G. William Whitehurst (R-Va.) attended the same meeting, but flew commercial. The round trip fare to Las Vegas is $690. The Navy plane was furnished to Goldwater, a Navy travel officer said, because he wanted to return the same night.
The trip for the Spiegel chairman was arranged after Goldwater had presented Johnson with the distinguished citizen award for his work with the Boy Scouts in Chicago a year ago, Johnson said in a recent interview. The two men got to talking about their experiences as military pilots and the nation's defenses and before long the senator said, "Maybe I can arrange a trip," Johnson recalled.
Goldwater did just that in a "Dear Cap" letter last April 1. "As you are well aware," he wrote Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger, "this is a very busy year for the Senate Armed Services Committee in consideration of the defense authorization bill for fiscal year 1983."
Of particular interest were the president's strategic proposals, Goldwater said, so "it would be very helpful to me if you could arrange for a visit to Strategic Air Command Headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base, for an individual whose views I hold in high regard."
The senator added that he would consider Johnson "to be a consultant to me for Intelligence Committee matters for the purpose of this visit." Pentagon officials said they have to take such declarations at face value.
So on May 11, an Air Force T39 Sabreliner flew out from Washington with Goldwater aide Sharon on board, picked up Johnson, who was listed on the passenger manifest as a member of the Intelligence Committee staff, and flew on to SAC headquarters near Omaha. Johnson got some unclassified briefings, toured some communications planes, had lunch with some generals and was whisked back to Chicago by midafternoon.
The Air Force no longer has flight records from the trip, but the flying time was about six hours and the T39 costs $800 an hour to operate, so the cost was about $5,000.
"I'm not for any waste," Johnson said. "If this was wasteful, then I was given a privilege few people get. I'm not trying to gyp the public. I hope I'm not getting the senator in trouble for doing a good deed."
Goldwater couldn't be reached for comment, but Sharon said the senator made Johnson a consultant because "he wanted his views on the matter, to formalize it."
Johnson said he was convinced that Goldwater had arranged the trip to "do something nice for me. It never entered my mind I could contribute something by going on this trip. I'm just not qualified to do that."
Here, drawn from Pentagon congressional travel files, is a sample of other trips taken last year:
* Last April, 15 members and staff from the House Armed Services and Appropriations committees toured a half dozen countries in the Middle East to check on possible future U.S. military bases for the Rapid Deployment Force, at a cost of about $325,0000, an average of $21,667 a person.
The flight on a C137 cost almost $295,000, according to Pentagon records. In addition, the Air Force spent $8,368 for baggage tips and trip supplies, including $720 in liquor and $540 in food from a supermarket. Food and lodging on the trip cost another $21,000, according to figures published in the Congressional Record.
The trip leader, Rep. Richard C. White (D-Tex.), issued a news release after the two-week tour, saying, "The trip provided an excellent opportunity to obtain firsthand information on the present course of events in a critical part of the world."
* In October, Sen. Jake Garn (R-Utah), his wife, sons and daughter and his personal secretary Suzanne D. Bingham were flown on a C9 jet to Newport News, Va., for the launching of the attack submarine Salt Lake City. The hour-and-a-half round trip cost about $3,000.
Bingham was listed on the passenger manifest as "matron of honor." This means she was standing by in case anything happened to the "sponsor" of the christening, Mrs. Garn, she said.
* Not everyone has to travel with the boss to take advantage of the Pentagon's hospitality. For instance, last November, Donnald K. Anderson, floor manager of the House Democratic cloakroom, hitched a ride on a military plane to the West Coast for the sea trials of the battleship New Jersey. The Navy picked up the tab for his $405 commercial flight home.
"My work here requires me to stay informed on a variety of subjects," Anderson said when asked about his interest in battleships. "It was my intention not to cost the government anything," but a return military flight wasn't available