Cantwell Statement On Inspector General Report Critical of Secretary Zinke’s Taxpayer Funded Travel

April 16, 2018

Washington, D.C. – Today, Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) made the following statement regarding the Department of the Interior’s Inspector General (IG) report on Secretary Zinke’s use of chartered flights in fiscal year 2017:

"Secretary Zinke should heed the Inspector General’s findings that his speech to a political donor’s hockey team had ’no tie’ to official business and avoid similarly questionable uses of taxpayer dollars in the future," said Senator Cantwell. "I hope in the future Interior Department ethics officials won’t sign off on potentially improper or unlawful travel arrangements until they are certain they have all the relevant information."

The principal focus of the Inspector General’s report was on Secretary Zinke’s use of a charter flight from a speech to a professional hockey team in Las Vegas to a meeting of the Western Governors Association in Montana.  The IG found that the charter flight cost over 10 times more per person than a commercial flight would have cost and that the use of a charter flight could have been avoided with better planning. 

The IG also found that the “pep talk” to the hockey team, which the report compares to that of a “locker room speech,” had nothing to do with the business of the Interior Department, and that the hockey team is owned by a major donor to his congressional campaign.

While investigating, the Inspector General found that the trip had been authorized by Zinke’s chief of staff, with the approval of the Ethics Office, but that the Ethics Office approved it “without complete information” about the hockey team, Zinke’s relationship with the team owner, the nature of the speech, or the cost of the charter flight.