WASHINGTON (AP) — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos flies on her personal plane at her own expense when she visits schools around the country, according to her office, as other Cabinet secretaries’ flying habits at taxpayers’ cost have drawn scrutiny.
Education Department Press Secretary Liz Hill said in a statement to The Associated Press that DeVos travels “on personally-owned aircraft” at zero cost to taxpayers. Speaking with the AP on Thursday, Hill would not disclose details about the model or any other characteristics of the aircraft.
“The secretary neither seeks, nor accepts, any reimbursement for her flights, nor for any additional official travel-related expenses, such as lodging and per diem, even though she is entitled to such reimbursement under government travel regulations,” Hill said. “Secretary DeVos accepted her position to serve the public and is fully committed to being a faithful steward of taxpayer dollars.”
The issue of Cabinet secretaries’ travel came under scrutiny on Wednesday when Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price faced an outcry over chartering five private flights last week for official business when other cheaper travel options were available. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said Democrats would seek a “full accounting” of Price’s travel from his department’s inspector general.
“Taxpayer funds are not meant to be used as a jet-setting slush fund,” Pallone said.
DeVos, a long-standing charter and private school advocate, is married to Dick DeVos, the heir to the Amway marketing fortune. Over the years, DeVos and her family have contributed millions of dollars to Republican candidates and causes.
Hill said DeVos pays for “all her travel expenses including flights, hotels, etc., out of pocket and at no expense to taxpayers.” Since coming to office, DeVos’ only charge to the department was one roundtrip Amtrak ticket from DC to Philadelphia for $184. Hill added that DeVos also covers travel expenses for her security detail or any other staff accompanying her on the aircraft.
Her predecessor, Secretary John King, spent under $39,000 of government money on travel during his first months in office, according to department data. Figures on past secretaries’ travel were requested by the AP.
“For the record, we flew coach, and we came back same day if we could,” tweeted King’s former press secretary Dorie Nolt. “We also actually spent time in public schools.”
But DeVos has also faced criticism over her use of public dollars. DeVos encountered protesters at events she attended early in her tenure and her security detail has been bolstered at an additional cost of some $7.8 million, prompting an outcry from some of her critics.
At her Senate confirmation hearing in January, DeVos said she wanted to waive her right to receive a salary. But since federal government rules require her to be paid, DeVos is planning to donate her salary to charity, Hill said.
DeVos is not the only member of the administration to make such donations. In July, President Donald Trump donated his second-quarter salary of $100,000 to the Education Department to fund a science and technology camp. But the gesture fell flat with some educators, who pointed out that the check will do little to mitigate the $9 billion cut to the Department’s budget that he has proposed.
Price, a former Republican congressman from Georgia, chartered flights to a resort in Maine where he was part of a discussion with a health care industry CEO, according to a report in Politico. He also chartered flights to community health centers in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. One leg was from Dulles International Airport to Philadelphia International Airport, a distance of 135 miles.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last week that the initial request for use of a government plane for his European trip last month was about national security and not his own personal convenience on his honeymoon.
Follow Maria Danilova on Twitter at @m_education_ap