Watchdog: Follow the Money

Ex-Im exceeds travel budget by millions after flying first class 400 times

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Transportation,Travel,Watchdog,Waste and Fraud,Luke Rosiak,Follow the Money,Air Travel,Trade,Export Import Bank

Officials of the Export-Import Bank of the United States blew the agency's travel budget by millions of dollars after taking 400 first-class flights over the last three years, according to records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Ex-Im is a federal agency that provides taxpayer subsidies to U.S. exporters such as Boeing, General Electric and Caterpillar.

Last month, the Hill reported that "officials with the Export-Import Bank have exceeded their travel budget over the last three years by $3 million, according to disclosures filed with the House Financial Services Committee.

"In fiscal 2012, Ex-Im budgeted $1.7 million for travel expenses but spent $2.7 million. In fiscal 2013, Ex-Im budgeted $1.2 million but spent $2.2 million. And in this fiscal year, Ex-Im budgeted $1.3 million but expects its end-of-year spending to total $2.3 million," the Hill found.

But documents newly obtained by the Washington Examiner show that it was not just the frequency of the travel that caused Ex-Im officials to exceed their budget, but the way they chose to travel.

No justification was provided for choosing first-class travel for three domestic flights. Documents for two domestic first-class flights cited "unavailability of coach class fares or space," while two others cited "other reasons in the best interest of the bank."

Among other flights, Ex-Im representatives flew first class to China "to negotiate legal documents," to Nigeria for "public affairs support to Chairman's business development trip meeting with govt., business leaders and news media," and to Los Angeles to be a "speaker at global events at UCLA with LA Chamber of Commerce and business meetings in Orange County."

Neither the cost of the tickets nor the cost of a coach-class seat was included in the documents.

Conservatives in Congress have long sought to defund Ex-Im as a corporate welfare program, while President Obama has defended it as a job creator.

In March, the Examiner reported that federal bureaucrats routinely fly first class, often claiming it is a medical necessity.

The Examiner obtained records for 14 federal agencies for 2012 and 2013 and found that among that sample, bureaucrats spent an estimated $8.7 million on 1,903 upgraded flights. That was about $6.4 million more than coach or government-rate flights would have cost.

A NASA employee flew from Frankfurt to Cologne, Germany, for $6,851, a flight that cost almost 52 times more than the $133 coach fare.

One flight from Washington to Hanoi, Vietnam, for an informational meeting of the Department of Labor cost $15,529 instead of $1,649, according to the agency's 2012 report.

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Luke Rosiak

Senior Watchdog Reporter/Data Editor
The Washington Examiner

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