Veterans Affairs Secretary Togo D. West Jr. violated government regulations and cost taxpayers thousands of dollars by using military aircraft for two trips to Louisiana and Alaska in 1998, the agency's inspector general concludes in a report.
West also "fueled the perception of waste" with a $283-per-person dinner at his home on Oct. 7, 1998, to honor then-Navy Secretary John Dalton and his wife. While the party, which featured the U.S. Army Band, did not itself violate government rules, the report found that a $375 plaque for Dalton's wife, Margaret, should not have been paid for by the government. West was told to reimburse the government.
The report said West concurred with the findings. Agency spokesman Terry Jemison commented, "The report speaks for itself."
The inspector general's report said West should not have used government aircraft unless no commercial flights were "reasonably available" and the cost of using the government plane would not exceed the cost of flying commercially.
A flight to Alaska by West and five others, who then were diverted to Wyoming to represent President Clinton at the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a gay man beaten and left to die tied to a fence, could have been booked on commercial airlines for $4,302 but cost $29,600 for the one-way trip to Alaska on an Air Force plane, the report said.
The group returned to Washington on a separate Air Force plane even though a commercial flight within an hour was available, the report said.
An Air Force flight by West and three others to Baton Rouge, La., a few days later cost $3,396 one way (no bill had arrived for the return trip) but could have been booked commercially for $944, the report said.