The Department of Justice is catching criticism from a Republican senator for how it has used two Federal Bureau of Investigation jets for executive travel.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, released a U.S. Government Accountability Office study Thursday that found the the DOJ spent $11.4 million between 2007 and 2011 on "non-mission" travel for attorneys general and FBI directors.
"These luxury jets were supposedly needed for counterterrorism, but it turns out that they were used almost two-thirds of the time for jet-setting executive travel instead," Grassley said in a press statement.
The GAO spent a year examining the use of the FBI Gulfstream V jets for "non mission" flights. That could include travel to participate in coordination meetings with other U.S. government entities and foreign organizations, field office site visits, and any personal travel by executives required to use government aircraft, the GAO said.
There were three attorneys general during the time period covered by the study, which is an inside look at travel issues related to being the executives at the DOJ.
All attorneys general and FBI directors are now "required use" travelers, meaning an executive branch policy says they must use government aircraft for all their travel, including travel for personal reasons, because of security and communications needs, the GAO notes.
"Nobody disputes that the attorney general and the FBI director should have access to the secure communications, but, for instance, there's no reason they can’t take a less expensive mode of transportation or cut their personal travel," Grassley said.
The FBI and DOJ jointly responded to the criticism by releasing a statement Thursday that said counterterrorism and weapons of mass destruction operations are the first priority for all FBI aircraft. "The GAO report confirms that the Department of Justice always adheres to these priorities in scheduling use of its aircraft," the statement said.
"The report also makes clear that the overwhelming majority of travel by recent attorneys general and the [FBI] director – although termed 'non mission' travel by the report – has been for official business travel in furtherance of the department's national security and public safety mission," the statement said.
The FBI also said it needs the communications and range capabilities of the department's Gulfstream V aircraft, which are essential for certain overseas national security operations.
Grassley also criticized how the FBI flies the jets from an undisclosed location in the Washington area to Reagan National Airport to pick up the attorneys general and the FBI directors for travel. That practice cost the taxpayers $1.5 million out of the $11.4 million total, the GAO report found.
"It seems to me that there has to be a better way than flying a jet a few miles to pick up the attorney general and the FBI Director," Grassley said.
The FBI told the GAO investigators that these positioning flights are necessary because the location where the FBI maintains the aircraft is an unmarked covert facility where the agency sometimes initiates sensitive flight operations.