As a longtime critic of congressional junkets and travel, I am a bit confused by the effusion of shock and contempt by our congressional leaders in both parties over the recent Nevada conference by GSA employees. There is no question that the conference was outrageous and an abuse. However, these are the same people who have spent hundreds of millions on trips that have long been denounced as little more than paid vacations and long fought for the right to be wined and dined by lobbyists and other interests at swank hotels and restaurants (here and here and here). In the meantime, recent reports show that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has cost the taxpayers $860,000 to fly back and forth on weekends to his home in California. That is almost the exact amount spent at the Nevada conference. They sound like a city of Claude Rains, “shocked, shocked” by the allegations as they rush to make their private flights on government aircraft.
Panetta has apologized for his costs of travel. The costs of the 27 roundtrip flights amount to $3,200 per flight hour for his Air Force C-37 — somewhat comparable to a Gulfstream jet. The high costs are associated with his insistence in “going home” to California. Pelosi was previously criticized for using military jets to go to California at a huge public cost. At least Pelosi could claim that she has to return to her district — though I have previously criticized her for these flights and her purchase of planes to be used by members for junkets. Panetta’s flights in my view are excessive. He could simply not fly to California for weekends and show a modicum of fiscal restraint.
The hypocrisy shown over the GSA conference has reached a new high in this city. There are members of the legislative and executive branches who have not bilked the public for such trips. However, they are you will find few such examples among Democratic and Republican leadership who have records replete with junkets and free vacations (dressed up as educational trips).