THE BEHAVIOR of President Trump’s Cabinet when it comes to spending taxpayer funds reflects a willful disregard for basic norms of public service and an exaggerated sense of entitlement. Expensive military aircraft, first-class travel, pricey office dining room sets — all are an affront to government as a public trust.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin seems to be striving for U.S. government frequent-flier awards, at maximum cost. According to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by a watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, in the spring and fall of last year the secretary “took eight separate trips on military aircraft at a total cost of nearly $1 million,” trips he could have made commercially at much lower cost. Mr. Mnuchin flew to Miami last summer, and on the return leg, just had to take a conference call on a secure telephone, which bumped up the cost of the military flight by $18,000 to more than $45,000. The five people on the manifest could have made the same trip commercially for $3,440.
Then there is Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and his $31,561 mahogany office dining room set, ordered in circumvention of a requirement that no more than $5,000 be spent without notifying Congress. After news broke, a HUD spokesman said, “Mrs. Carson and the secretary had no awareness that the table was being purchased.” And said, “New tables, chairs, in that room whatsoever — zero awareness of this purchase being made.” Then, a spokesman blamed the purchase on career staffers. In canceling the order March 1, Mr. Carson said, “I was as surprised as anyone to find out that a $31,000 dining set had been ordered.” But an internal email refers to “the furniture the Secretary and Mrs. Carson picked out.” And Mrs. Carson was invited by a scheduler to meet with a designer. This is “zero awareness”? The emails were obtained by American Oversight, another watchdog group, and first reported by CNN.
Meanwhile, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt wanted to go from Washington to New York last June to appear on television shows. He flew first-class for $1,641.43, more than six times the fare of two media aides in coach. That same week, after traveling with the president for an event in Cincinnati, Mr. Pruitt and several staffers raced to New York on a military jet, at a cost of $36,068.50, to catch a plane to Rome, even though commercial coach flights from Cincinnati to Washington go for less than $150 each. Mr. Pruitt then jetted off to Rome on a round-trip ticket that cost $7,003.52, several times what was paid for other officials who went. After news reports appeared about his costly travel habits, Mr. Pruitt said he might begin flying coach.
Now that he has a nearly $43,000 soundproof, secure phone booth in his office, maybe Mr. Pruitt should call next time, instead of flying.
This is in service of a president who promised to “drain the swamp.” Of course, he also promised to make public his tax returns.
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