Investigation finds FBI jets used for personal travel, costing millions

Article Highlights

  • Expensive Gulfstream jet used for extensive personal travel
  • $11 million spent over 5 years on non FBI-related expenses
  • 88 personal trips taken by Holder and Mukasey, Mueller adds 10
  • Read the official GAO report

According to an investigation released by the Government Accountability Office, the FBI’s Gulfstream jet, leased by the government to provide travel for global counterterrorism efforts, has been repeatedly misused for personal business travel by Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller.

The jet costs taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars every time the wheels leave the ground.  The investigation found that between the years of 2007 and 2011, more than half of the jet’s logged hours were for non-mission related travel activities that cost taxpayers over $11 million.

A whopping 88 personal trips were taken by Holder and former Republican Attorney General Michael Mukasey.  Mueller added 10 personal trips to the count.

Traditionally, the government has required FBI officials to use government-operated jets to maintain security.  However, smaller and less expensive Citation jets are typically used.  Since 2007, Holder and Mueller opted instead for the much more luxurious, and far more expensive, Gulfstream for the majority of their personal travel.

The report added, “However, according to DOJ officials, while the AG has historically been required to use government aircraft for all types of travel, including personal travel, the FBI Director had, until 2011, the discretion to use commercial air service for his personal travel.”

Read the official GAO report.

Millions commit fraud to receive taxpayer-funded “Obama phone”

obama-phone-videoJust months after the federal government spent $2.2 billion in 2012 to fund a cellular phone subsidy program aimed at giving low-income Americans taxpayer-funded telephone services, tightened FCC rules have revealed that a whopping 41% of those who received “free” phone service could not substantiate eligibility for the program.

The “Lifeline Program” began in 1984 as a way to keep low-income people connected to family and emergency services.  The program was intended for those who meet federal poverty standards or currently receive food stamps, Medicaid or other taxpayer-funded handouts.

Until last year, telephone carriers were not required to verify the eligibility of those who applied for the phone subsidy.  It is only now, after the FCC tightened their rules and require eligibility verification, that the massive fraud – accounting for nearly half of those subscribed to the handout program – has been revealed to tax paying Americans.

The FCC now requires telephone carriers to verify eligibility and may impose fines of $150,000 per customer, per day for fraudulent use of the Lifeline program.  The FCC claims the new safeguards will save taxpayers $2 billion over the course of three years.

Gov’t to spend $25m installing useless seatbelts in buses

SchoolBus_c3Despite convincing evidence that seat belts provide no additional safety for passengers riding on school and commercial buses, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will push forward a plan to require all new buses to come equipped with seat belts.

The plan will cost an additional $25m annually.  The NHTSA says the plan may save up to 8 lives a year.

Ironically, the government’s own safety regulators had nixed similar plans in the passed due to overwhelming evidence that seat belts provide very little benefit to passengers of buses, which are already built under strict safety standards.  More ironically, the NHTSA also refuted assumptions that seat belts improve safety just a short time ago.  They argued that there is no guarantee that passengers will use the seat belts, and improper use of the belts may increase the risk of injuries.  Further, more children get killed around school buses than in them, according to the NHTSA, and there is concern that some kids may use belts as weapons to choke other passengers.

Despite the NHTSA’s own findings, the government is moving forward with additional seat belt regulations.  The new law will not require current commercial buses to install seat belts, only new buses.  Buses equipped with seat belts typically run an additional $13,000 a piece.  Many fear poorer school districts will avoid buying newer buses and instead stick with older models, which may be more dangerous due to their age and mechanical wear.

The government seems steadfastly focused on spending money and implementing piles of legislation, each year, that amount to very little benefit, if any.  Useless seat belt regulations are another example of the government practically falling over itself, even after its own transportation safety board recommended otherwise, to waste taxpayer money.

Sandy relief bill filled with expensive pet project funding

Radar image of Hurricane SandyRepublican Representative Harold Rogers has introduced a $17 billion so-called “Hurricane Sandy Recovery” bill (H.R. 152) that would provide federal funding to the victims of the devastating hurricane that ravaged the northeast late last year.  Unfortunately, the bill contains hundreds of millions of unrelated spending on pet projects aimed at keeping career politicians gainfully employed.

According to an analysis from Taxpayers for Common Sense, the bill contains intentionally generalized language that effectively lets large portions of the relief fund get diverted into spending virtually anywhere, amounting to another slush fund for political initiatives.

For example, TCS writes:

“$150M for Interior expenses related to Sandy or other activities related to storms and natural disasters avail until expended; funds to restore and rebuild parks, refuges, public assets; increase resiliency of coastal habitat and infrastructure; protect natural and cultural values; this money can go anywhere in the department (seems like a slush fund).”

“$921M for federal-aid highways (does not appear to be trust fund related).”

“$821 million for Operation & Maintenance funding to dredge federal channels and repair corps projects NATIONWIDE related to natural disasters (very likely to go to Mississippi River dredging in the St. Louis area).”

Read TCS’s complete analysis of the legislation: http://www.taxpayers.org/library/article/brief-analysis-of-selected-provisions-in-proposed-senate-supplemental-appro.

Taxpayer money spent on monitoring LED signs

In an interesting story from the Washington Post, a church in Vienna, Virginia was issued a warning letter recently about their LED sign.  The problem?  Apparently the church changed the text of the sign more than two times in a 24-hour period.

According to Fairfax County law, LED signs cannot be changed more than two times a day; Vienna United Methodist Church’s sign was changed three times.  The horror.  A letter was sent from the county warning the church to either fix the problem or remove the sign altogether.  The two could not reach a compromise during a meeting in late July.  The church has filed a lawsuit against the county citing free speech and religious freedom.

Setting aside the rationale and history of the ordinance itself (a topic that county workers will not talk about during the suit), apparently taxpayers in Fairfax County are paying workers to monitor LED signs throughout the day.  After the third change of the LED sign, a city worker was on it!

I would imagine the county’s ordinance was designed to prevent a bunch of annoying and distracting LED lights around the county.  But seriously, the county needs to use some discretion with how taxpayer money is spent to enforce its laws.  Changing an LED sign three times instead of two in a 24-hour period hardly presents a distracting environment for drivers.  This should be the least of the county’s worries, and I would expect them to be more respectful of local taxpayers and how their hard-earned money is being spent.

Original story: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/vienna-church-says-fairfax-county-sign-rules-violate-first-amendment/2012/08/29/7e06d5f0-f1ee-11e1-adc6-87dfa8eff430_story.html