After cutting $3.1 billion from the President’s budget request to pay for military restructuring efforts, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) was exposed trying to commandeer an Air Force jet from the Pentagon for routine trips.
An aide to Pelosi’s has confirmed that an inquires were made from her office to the Department of Defense to seek approval for a federally-funded military provided flight approximately 152-miles from Washington, D.C. to Williamsburg, Virginia for House Democrats’ February 3 retreat.
The request was made with the intent of making the jet permanently available to ferry her on a regular basis.
A memo from the House Republican Conference said that Pelosi wanted to secure a C-32 jet. The C-32 is the military’s version of a Boeing 757-200 commercial intercontinental airliner that services the Vice President, the First Lady and members of the Cabinet. It houses 50 business class seats, a "stateroom," an entertainment system and premium communications technology.
The jet must be manned by a crew of 16 and costs taxpayers about $22,000 per hour to operate Drew Hammill, a spokesman, for Pelosi told Roll Call that the initial "request was to clarify whether retreats were covered" and that Pelosi had already used a Pentagon jet for a trip to her district in January.
The request to fly to Williamsburg was denied.
The House Sergeant-at-Arms Wilson Livingood issued a statement that said he had originally told Pelosi the plane was available. Livingood said several members of the Speaker’s staff and members of the Office of the Sergeant at Arms had met with the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the U.S. Air Force liaison to clarify the rules for on future use of the jet. At press time, he said he was waiting for an official response from leadership.
After 9/11, the Speaker of the House was given access to military transport for security reasons.
Rep. Dennis Hastert (R.-Ill.), who served as Speaker of the House from 1999 to 2006, was the first Speaker to access military planes for travel. He usually flew to his district commercially. When he did travel by military transport he flew a plane that seated 12 and was manned by five.
Pelosi’s staff said a larger plane needed because the one Hastert needed to be refueled every 2,000 miles. The distance between Washington, D.C. and San Francisco is approximately 2,438 miles.
The Department of Defense has explicit guidelines for providing congressional travel in their Directive 4515.12 that was enacted in 1974.
Requests for non-sponsored travel, like Pelosi’s staff was making, must be authorized by the Department of Defense. Directive 4515.12 says requests should be in "primary interest to Department of Defense" and on an "economical basis" with "prudent utilization of Department of Defense transportation resources."
It advises that approval be granted when "necessary to carry out the duties and responsibilities of the Department of Defense."
Section 4.4 further specifies that travel should only be granted, "when the purpose of the travel is of the primary interest to, and bears a substantial relationship to the programs or activities of the Department of Defense."
The directive also contains a stipulation in the law that military provided travel service should not "compete with United States commercial sea, air or land transportation when that transport exists and its use it not inconsistent with the primary purpose of the travel."
A commercial weekend flight from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco leaving February 9 and returning February 11 is was being offered on $299 on Expedia.com February 7.
Members of congress can make requests for reimbursable travel, granted the request is "of official concern to the Congress" and "shows the appropriation fund chargeable and other clear indication of the method by which reimbursement is made."
No indication has been made that Pelosi sought information on how to reimburse the military for her travel requests.
The Washington Times, which originally broke this story, reported that Pelosi was interested in securing the jet to provide flights for her relatives and members of the California delegation as well.
(Consequently, a Times reporter was accused by a member of Pelosi’s staff taking leaked information from the Bush administration who sought to manipulate the media to negotiate on their behalf.)
Directive 4515.12 prohibits travel for dependents and employees of Congress in the same way it prohibits travel on dependants of Department of Defense personnel.
Exceptions to this rule can be made by the Secretary of Military Department and the Secretary of Defense and are only permitted if the dependants are "essential to the proper accomplishment of the missions, desirable because of diplomatic or public relations, or necessary for the health of the individuals concerned."
News of Pelosi’s inquiry comes immediately after House passage of an omnibus spending bill that made cuts Department of Defense’s budget.
Because the 109th Congress only passed two of the 11 necessary appropriations spending bills to carry out government functions, the House rolled the remaining nine bills into an omnibus spending resolution.
The spending bill contained $2.5 billion to pay for base realignment and closure activities. This is $3.1 billion short of the President’s $5.6 billion FY 2007 request.
The money was allocated by the President to carry out 2005 recommendations from the Base Realignment and Closing (BRAC) Commission. 25 bases are scheduled to be closed by the end of fiscal year 2008.
The Senate must pass their version of the bill before February 15 to prevent a government shut down. It is not expected to vary from the House bill.