Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has personally paid for at least 21 government-related trips using a private plane this year, according to new documents that confirm the department's comments about DeVos's personal plane use, amid scrutiny over cabinet officials’ travel expenditures.
So far this year, DeVos has paid just $184 in taxpayer dollars on rail travel, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News through a Freedom of Information Act request. The bulk of the travel-related costs — an amount that the department declined to release because it involves private spending — were paid for by DeVos, who is paying for her own air travel, meals and lodging.
The trips include school visits in states like Florida and Pennsylvania and speeches at Harvard, Michigan State University, and other institutions.
Although a spokesperson for DeVos, a billionaire and former GOP megadonor, said last month that the secretary uses a personal plane for travel, some lawmakers and government watchdogs continued to raise concerns.
Washington Democrat Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking member on the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, wrote a letter to the Department of Education to "request clarification" on DeVos’s travel.
Murray asked for more information in the letter, saying reports regarding other Trump cabinet officials using taxpayer funds to pay for noncommercial flights "raise serious concerns about the lack of internal controls to ensure appropriate use of government funds for travel and the potential widespread waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars."
"Despite President Trump’s campaign promise to 'drain the swamp,' it appears some officials in his Administration are using their positions of power to receive personal and financial benefits," Murray said in the letter.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was forced to resign after Politico detailed his use of hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars for noncommercial travel.
DeVos’s strict use of personal funds for her noncommercial travel still leaves open questions, however. As BuzzFeed News previously reported, her personal plane use could be at odds with an obscure law, the Antideficiency Act, which bars the federal government from accepting free services.
The Department of Education has not yet responded to requests about the approval process for DeVos's travel arrangement.
This story has been updated. A previous version of the story stated that DeVos had used $4,754 in taxpayer dollars for travel; however, after publication, the Department of Education clarified that amount includes government estimates of lodging and meal reimbursements, which DeVos is not taking.
Tarini Parti is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Tarini Parti at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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