Inspector General Investigating Buttigieg's Use of Taxpayer-Funded Jets

Audit comes as transportation secretary faces backlash over response to East Palestine train derailment

Pete Buttigieg (D.) / Getty Images
February 28, 2023

The Department of Transportation on Monday announced an internal audit of Secretary Pete Buttigieg's use of taxpayer-funded jets, an investigation that comes as the embattled secretary faces widespread criticism for his handling of the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

The inspector general's office will investigate Buttigieg's use of department aircraft, saying in a memo that it is determining whether the department "complied with Federal regulations, policies, and procedures regarding executive travel on DOT aircraft."

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) requested the audit in December 2022, suggesting Buttigieg has misused government resources with more than a dozen logged flights on government jets.

"Taxpayers should pay no more than necessary for your transportation," Rubio wrote in a letter to the department's inspector general Eric Soskin.

Buttigieg took 18 flights on Federal Aviation Administration jets for official trips costing $41,905.20, the secretary's office told the Washington Post. The department also claimed that in all but one instance the private travel was less expensive than a commercial flight.

The investigation comes as Buttigieg comes under fire for his department's delayed response to the train derailment and subsequent toxic chemical release in East Palestine, Ohio. It took him nearly two weeks to acknowledge the crisis and three weeks to visit East Palestine. Buttigieg spent much of his time in the devastated town criticizing former president Donald Trump and Republicans.

Since the federal government took over the cleanup, the Biden administration has halted the removal of toxic waste from the town, with some truckloads full of toxins returning to East Palestine.

Buttigieg has also overseen frequent breakdowns in the commercial aviation system. A programming error at the Federal Aviation Administration, which is part of the Transportation Department, in January grounded all commercial flights for the first time since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Buttigieg's use of government jets also draws a contrast to his comments on climate change. "The climate crisis is here today, threatening Americans’ lives and livelihoods, our homes and businesses, and even the way we travel and operate our federal agencies," Buttigieg said in 2021.

Studies show private jets emit anywhere between 5 and 14 times more pollution per passenger than commercial planes.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) has requested more information on Buttigieg’s private jet usage.

"Brief meetings with people you could have met with in Washington, or picked up a phone to talk to, create questions about whether you really required the use of a private jet, especially as you call on Americans to sacrifice to reduce carbon emissions," Grassley wrote in a Jan. 24 letter to the secretary.

The Transportation Department claims private jet use is reserved for "specific cases" that "helped to maximize efficiency and save thousands of taxpayer dollars."