The Washington Examiner acquired records of federal agency travel through the Freedom of Information Act, and made an interesting discovery:
“The federal government spent millions of dollars on thousands of upgraded flights for employees in 2012 and 2013, paying many times more for business and first-class seats than the same flights would have cost in coach or the government-contracted rate. Premium travel reports from 14 federal agencies documenting the flights show these agencies alone spent an estimated $8.7 million on 1,903 upgraded flights in those two years. That was about $6.4 million more than the same coach and government-rate flights would have cost. The agencies spent $5.7 million in 2012, almost double the $3 million they paid for premium travel in 2013. The cost of coach and government-rate flights is approximate because several agencies either reported estimates for some coach fare or didn’t report them at all.”
There is just no excuse for this. None. I can conceive of some rare situations when first class travel would be called for, but not many. The accommodations in coach for most international air travel is perfectly endurable, and the huge difference in price isn’t justified unless you have serious back problems or some other malady. The basic ethical question every public servant should ask himself or herself is this: would I fly First Class if I had to pay for it? Almost always, the answer will be “no,’ and even if the answer is yes, the standard for buying luxury seating on the public’s tab should be more stringent. It’s not their money. That’s really the answer to the threshold “What’s going on here?” ethics query in this instance. What’s going on is that the public’s trust is being abused by officials casually using scarce taxpayer resources for their own comfort and convenience.
These reports suggest that the agencies are not properly monitoring premium travel, suggested Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against GovernmentWaste, who told the Examiner, “From the taxpayer’s point of view, everything should be done to avoid the use of first-class travel unless absolutely necessary.”
How do you argue with that? The defense offered will be that the amounts spent are relatively small: what’s a few million dollars when we’re wasting billions? A more obvious rationalization would be hard to find. The abuse is symptomatic. Government workers operate in a culture of arrogance and entitlement, and see taxpayer money as their slush fund. Unfair? Then let’s see them all fly coach.
It would be a start.