A watchdog group is demanding answers, and a name, after a new inspector general report called out a “high ranking” Commerce Department official for spending taxpayer dollars on luxury hotels and cars — and even lavish office renovations that allegedly may have broken the law.
The report, published Thursday, found that the official, identified only as a “high-ranking Political Appointee,” received “unjustified” reimbursements for luxury hotels, in violation of government policy, while a member of his staff received “questionable” reimbursements for premium car services.
The report said the official’s hotel choices were based on personal preference and not what was best for work.
The report cited in particular one trip to Geneva, Switzerland, in which the appointee was reimbursed at 150 percent of the standard rate after staying at a luxury hotel — and even though some of those days were spent on personal travel. While the reimbursement rate was $340 a night, the appointee stayed at a hotel costing around $1,150 a night, and was reimbursed for just over $500 of that.
The IG also found the official had his office renovated at a cost 10 times the amount allowed by regulations. After telling a senior member of the department his office was “a[n] [expletive] dump,” and “[y]ou’ve got to fix it,” the agency spent more than $50,000, calling it “routine maintenance” despite there only being a $5,000 stipend for renovations.
While the report concluded there was no evidence to suggest the appointee specifically sought to spend that much, it said, “more care should have been taken to ensure compliance with that restriction.” Another official who spoke to the IG said the work to the office was “over the top” and “unnecessary.”
It also cited instances where the appointee used luxury cars when less expensive options were available. It cited one instance in which the appointee and his staff used an SUV during a two-day trip to Boston that cost almost $1,800.
Cause of Action Institute, a conservative nonprofit advocacy group, wrote to the office Friday, demanding answers on the “slush fund” spending and that the official be named.
“Reports of taxpayer-funded lavish foreign travel, luxury car service, and ‘over the top’ office renovations raise serious concerns. Such misconduct is beyond inappropriate and could even be criminal,” Cause of Action’s Institute President and CEO Alfred J. Lechner, Jr., said in a statement.
“American taxpayers have the right to know the name and title of this high-ranking political appointee and whether such wasteful spending could be a more widespread problem at the agency,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Commerce Department told FoxNews.com that it appreciated the findings of the report, and expects employees to conduct business in accordance with federal regulations.
“The IG’s report noted that the Political Appointee indicated he was willing to pay for any portion of his travel expenses that was not legitimately reimbursable under government regulations, policy, and the rules. The Department is reviewing the IG’s findings to determine if additional reimbursements are required, and will seek any reimbursements owed,” the spokeswoman said.
“The Department believes this to be an isolated incident, and has already taken steps to strengthen internal controls related to the travel approval process. We are studying all of the recommendations made in the IG report to determine what further action may be warranted,” she said.