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Transportation Department watchdog to audit Buttigieg's use of government aircraft

The review, requested by Sen. Marco Rubio, will extend back to Pete Buttigieg's predecessor as transportation secretary, Elaine Chao.
Image: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg gives a speech on the Hudson River tunnel project at the West Side Yard on Jan. 31, 2023 in New York.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks about the Hudson River tunnel project at the West Side Yard in New York on Jan. 31.Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images file

The Transportation Department's internal watchdog said Monday that it will review the use of government jets by its top official, Pete Buttigieg, and his predecessor in the Trump administration.

The inspector general plans to "conduct an audit to determine whether the Office of the Secretary complied with Federal regulations, policies, and procedures" related to executive travel on the department's aircraft, according to a memo released Monday.

The audit, which was requested by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., will focus on official trips taken since Jan. 31, 2017, when former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao was sworn into office, the memo says.

Rubio requested in December that the watchdog determine whether Buttigieg has complied with federal rules and department policies for domestic and international travel.

In his letter to the watchdog, Rubio cited a Fox News article that said Buttigieg had taken 18 flights on "taxpayer-funded private jets."

The Transportation Department said Monday that Buttigieg took 18 flights on Federal Aviation Administration planes over seven trips.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, also questioned Buttigieg’s air travel in a letter to the transportation secretary last month.

Buttigieg said Monday that the audit would help debunk “misleading narratives.”

“Bottom line: I mostly fly on commercial flights, in economy class. And when I do use our agency’s aircraft, it’s usually a situation where doing so saves taxpayer money,” he tweeted.

A spokesperson said the Transportation Department welcomed the audit "in order to put some of the false, outlandish, and cynical claims about the Secretary’s mode of travel to rest."

"The fact remains that he flies commercially the vast majority of the time," the spokesperson said. "The exceptions have been when the Department’s career ethics officials, who have served under both Democratic and Republican administrations, determined that the use of a 9-seat FAA plane would be either more cost effective or should be approved for exceptional scheduling or security reasons.”

Buttigieg has faced criticism following widespread commercial flight cancellations and delays last year. More recently, congressional Republicans like Rubio have called on Buttigieg to resign over his response to the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, this month, which caused a toxic chemical spill that has endangered residents and wildlife.

Chao did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the planned audit.