Amid the finger-pointing over John Sununu's personal and political trips on military aircraft, it is important to recognize that the White House chief of staff is far from alone in turning to the obvious convenience of military planes. Members of Congress take hundreds of such trips every year to points around the globe.
The Baltimore Sun studied foreign travel records for Congress and found that it costs several million dollars a year, with many of the trips, even if only for a few days, costing more than $5,000 each. In many cases, those taking the trips have submitted records very late and included only sketchy information about cost and number of days spent.Such travel is expensive - far exceeding the cost of trips on commercial airlines - but officials and lawmakers are following in the footsteps of private business executives who prefer their own corporate jets to save time.
The General Accounting Office says it will expand the investigation of Sununu's trips to include "a review of the use by high governmental officials of both the executive and legislative branches" of aircraft of the 89th Military Airlift Wing at Andrews Air Force Base. It may be easier to justify Sununu's flights than some of those taken by members of Congress.
All that lawmakers and public officials must do to take a military flight is get a ride to Andrews Air Force Base. From there, the Pentagon will quickly insure that they reach their destinations with no annoying scheduling troubles or baggage checks.
The problem is that there is virtually no public accountability for these trips, even though government officials assigned to regulate federal air travel have been trying to monitor high level abuse since 1977.
It is time to record and justify these trips. There may be a number of occasions when lawmakers or others need to use military aircraft for important trips related to government business. But the convenience of flying on a military plane should not be considered an automatic perk of holding federal office.