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Pete Buttigieg spent $59K on taxpayer-funded private jets, audit finds

By Jake Beardslee · December 31, 2023

In brief…

  • Buttigieg and staff spent nearly $59,000 on government jets for travel between August 2021 and June 2023.
  • Audit found only 3 of 8 trips were justified by cost-effectiveness, others by security and scheduling.
  • In total, Buttigieg's flights on government fleet during period cost estimated $58,882.
  • Inspector general says continued oversight of aircraft use important for transparency.
The Department of Transportation inspector general audit found that while Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg opts to fly commercial most of the time, his occasional use of government jets for travel between August 2021 and June 2023 cost an estimated $59,000 and was not always cost-effective.  Gage Skidmore from Surprise, AZ, United States of America/Wikimedia

An audit by the Department of Transportation’s inspector general revealed that Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his staff spent close to $59,000 traveling on government executive jets for official business between August 2021 and June 2023. The audit found that Buttigieg took a total of eight trips on the government aircraft, which included over 20 individual flights. Although the Department of Transportation claimed Buttigieg’s use of the jets saved taxpayer money, the audit showed that only three of the trips were actually justified by cost savings. The other trips were rationalized based on concerns about security, scheduling needs, and communication capabilities.

The report states that continued oversight of aircraft use is important for transparency and accountability. Buttigieg’s flights during the time period cost an estimated $58,882. He often used the Federal Aviation Administration-managed jets to travel to local events where he announced infrastructure project grants funded by President Biden’s 2021 infrastructure law. For instance, in August 2022 Buttigieg went on a tour of six “swing states” that cost $14,940 and was justified by “exceptional scheduling.” Another trip to New York City in April 2022 for meetings cost $1,822 and was also based on scheduling.

While DOT claims the three cost-effective trips saved around $10,678, the inspector general found the agency doesn’t have to document the cost comparisons. Buttigieg mostly takes commercial flights, doing so for 82.6% of his trips. His predecessor, Elaine Chao, took commercial flights for 90% of her trips. However, one of Chao’s trips to France in 2017 cost nearly $70,000. The audit confirmed DOT followed policies for Buttigieg and Chao’s travel. But it found the agency used incorrect flight cost estimates, though not in a way that impacted cost-effectiveness determinations.

DOT stated that Buttigieg travels commercially most of the time and decisions aim to efficiently use taxpayer funds. They added that the exceptions were approved by career ethics officials. Americans for Public Trust criticized the report, according to FOX Digital, claiming the administration will say Buttigieg is cleared when Americans know this is an attempt to exonerate him.