Tired of cramped coach quarters on airplane flights but don’t want to shell out the extra bucks for business or first class? Go to work for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), where you too can travel in style — at taxpayers’ expense.
A Washington Examiner review of the department’s premium travel expense reports, which were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, has revealed that “HHS executives spent $31 million taking 7,000 first class and business class flights between 2009 and 2013, including 253 trips for which a one-way ticket cost more than $15,000.”
There is no doubt that this has cost taxpayers many millions of dollars. For the half of the records that included the price of a coach ticket for comparison, the Examiner found that “the upgrade boosted the cost by almost $14 million, from $4.9 million to $18.5 million.”
The rules governing federal employees’ travel state that flying business or first class is permissible only in the case of flights lasting longer than 14 hours. Just one-fifth of the flights reviewed by the Examiner met that description.
There are exceptions to that rule, however, and HHS executives appear to have taken advantage of them whenever possible, sometimes stretching them to the point of absurdity. For example, is it probable that the executives on 5,100 separate flights — 73 percent of the total trips — all had medical disabilities necessitating fare upgrades, as they claimed in their expense reports? What about assertions that they needed to upgrade because of “exceptional security circumstances,” a lack of available coach tickets, or the requirements of the agency’s mission?