Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has a neat little trick for avoiding traffic in DC: taking government helicopters, instead.
Zinke, whose use of charter planes is already being investigated by the Interior Department’s inspector general, spent upwards of $14,000 this summer on government helicopters to travel around DC with his staff, according to Politico. In one case, Zinke requested a U.S. Park Police helicopter to take him from the swearing in of Rep. Greg Gianforte (his replacement in congress) to a management exercise in West Virginia. The flight cost $8,000.
In another trip, which cost $6,250, Zinke ordered a Park Police helicopter to take him from Virginia to DC, where he joined Vice President Mike Pence on a horseback ride. The Interior Secretary justification for Zinke’s expense travel habits is truly a sight to be seen:
In an email to Interior travel scheduler Tim Nigborowicz, an Interior employee justified Zinke’s using the helicopter rather than a less expensive method by saying “the Secretary will be able to familiarize himself with the in-flight capabilities of an aircraft he is in charge of” and that the Park Police staff on board would “provide an added measure of security to the Secretary during his travel.”
However cost-iniefficent Zinke’s flights were, the Interior Department is not apologizing:
“The swearing in of the Congressman is absolutely an official event, as is emergency management training,” Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift wrote in an email Thursday. “Shame on you for not respecting the office of a Member of Congress.”
Gianforte, by the way, donated more than $15,000 to Zinke’s congressional campaigns before he was nominated to his Interior Secretary post.
Zinke’s helicopter travel might not be as newsworthy if he hadn’t already been caught chartering private planes for travel in his home state, Montana, as well as travel between two Caribbean islands. One of those flights, between Las Vegas and Kalispell, MT, cost more than $12,000.