WASHINGTON — A House panel on Wednesday narrowly voted down opening the books when it comes to senior Trump administration officials and their spouses’ use of military flights to get around.
The House Armed Services Committee rejected 30-31 an amendment to its far-reaching annual defense policy bill that would have mandated the Pentagon report every 90 days on its costs when senior executive branch officials travel by military aircraft — and whether their spouses’ travel costs were reimbursed.
The amendment was offered by Arizona Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran, who questioned whether taxpayers are subsidizing the excessively lavish travel habits of Trump administration officials.
“I and many other Americans have been outraged at report after report surfacing that senior administration officials are abusing ethics rules and improperly using military aircraft for travel,” O’Halleran said.
Republicans hold a 34-28 majority on the panel, but two sided with Democrats during the vote: Reps. Stephen Knight, of California, and Don Bacon, of Nebraska. Both are military veterans.
The Defense Department must already report such costs to the General Services Administration biannually, but the amendment would have mandated those reports be prepared quarterly and sent to Congress.
Allegations of excessive travel have entangled Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt. Former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price separately resigned amid criticism about their questionable travel.
“I can’t understand how we time and time again talk about saving dollars and make sure we have a transparent government, and to have this process not be put in place,” O’Halleran said. “This is about people who shouldn’t be using military aircraft and saving taxpayer dollars.”
The HASC’s annual defense authorization bill debate Wednesday was expected to pay host to other fights on hot-button issues centering around President Donald Trump. Among them, his orders to deploy National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, to exclude transgender troops among them and to mount a military parade.
Georgia Republican Rep. Austin Scott, who voiced opposition to O’Halleran’s proposal, called it burdensome to the Pentagon and politically motivated. He questioned whether the reporting requirement would expose travel that is sensitive for national security reasons.
“I think it’s a cheap political shot with very serious consequences for the people of this country,” Scott said.
O’Halleran insisted his motivation was not political and said Scott’s concerns would be addressed by the amendment’s exemption for so-called required-use travel.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.