The Office of Inspector General (IG) placed an investigation into Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s official travel on hold Wednesday after finding some trips improperly documented or not documented at all.
In a letter to the Department of the Interior (DOI), the IG requested information on missing and incomplete documents, as well as identifying major procedural problems with how travel is recorded.
The IG found that ethics officials cannot distinguish personal, political, and official travel through the review process currently in place. Investigators also could not determine the extent to which Zinke’s wife, the campaign chairwomen of a Montana candidate for U.S. Senate, flew with him and in what capacity when he traveled.
“Our investigation has been delayed by absent, or incomplete documentation for several pertinent trips and a review process that failed to include proper documentation and accountability,” the IG letter states. “Although we have received full cooperation from all employees contacted, we have found the documentation and adherence to Departmental travel policies deficient and without proper management oversight and accountability.”
In his response to the IG letter, Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt placed the blame on bad documentation and faulty procedures that have been in place since before Zinke took office.
“The Secretary and I inherited an organizational and operational mess from the previous Administration,” Bernhardt’s letter said. “It appears that the exact same procedures and processes utilized by the previous Administration remain in place and continue to be dysfunctional.”
The deputy secretary listed 12 trips by former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that were improperly documented to back up his claim. He also promised to collect missing travel information for the past decade and send it to the IG.
The IG began an investigation into Zinke’s travel records after Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned over heavy criticism for spending more than $400,000 on charter flights since taking office. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin are also under investigation for travel expenses.
Zinke is being investigated for possible violations of the Hatch Act, which forbids using taxpayer-funded flights for political events.
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