So far, more questions than answers are being raised by the flap over the trips that White House chief of staff John Sununu takes in military jets.
At this point, it would help if congressional investigators focused less on Sununu's personal practices in this regard and more on the wisdom of the policy covering such trips.It seems that since President Bush took office, Sununu has taken 77 such trips, including one to Salt Lake City on Dec. 6, 1989, but listed only four of them as being "personal." For those four, he reimbursed the government at commercial rates, which are only a small part of total cost to taxpayers.
The policy of letting both the chief of staff and the national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, travel on military jets began in 1987. The rationale for the policy is that these two officials must be within easy reach of the White House at all times in case of an emergency and commercial aircraft do not provide the sophisticated communications equipment available on military planes.
But since the White House got along without such a policy during the Vietnam War, the Iranian hostage crisis, the invasion of Grenada and various other pre-1987 crises, how necessary is it now?
Couldn't Sununu and Scowcroft use a portable communication system that could be carried aboard a commercial plane?
Under the policy, is the use of military jets by Sununu and Scowcroft optional or mandatory? At one point, the White House said the chief of staff and the national security adviser were required to use military aircraft at all times. Later, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said the two were "authorized" to do so.
Does the fact that Sununu took time out from his ski vacations to make speeches justify billing the taxpayers for the use of military planes on those trips?
Would the military planes have stood idle, at less expense to the taxpayers, if Sununu had not used them? Or is this, as the White House contends, a case of his getting in on the use of planes that are in constant use, carrying other officials and going on training and maintenance flights?
How wise is it to let Sununu be the one to pass judgment on the propriety of his own use of the military planes?
Why is it that Scowcroft's trips have not been at issue? Is this because he has taken fewer trips than Sununu? Or is it because Sununu's abrasive style and controversial decisions have made him more enemies?
As congressional investigators seek answers to such questions, the public should keep one final point firmly in mind: The probe into Sununu's use of subsidized travel will be conducted by lawmakers who are no strangers to similar favors, enjoying such advantages as tax-paid lunches, haircuts, and gymnasiums. Let him who has never abused a perquisite cast the first stone.