Gov’t Ethics Chief Scolds Cabinet Heads Amid Scrutiny Of Officials’ Travel

Treasury Secretary-designate Stephen Mnuchin and his fiancee Louise Linton arrive on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, for the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)
Saul Loeb/Pool AFP

Office of Government Ethics acting Director David Apol, who oversees ethics in the executive branch, sent a memo to the heads of federal agencies last week admonishing some Cabinet officials for their actions and encouraging a greater focus on ethics.

The memo came as several Cabinet chiefs have come under scrutiny for their taxpayer-funded travel habits, although Apol did not explicitly mention officials’ use of non-commercial flights in his memo.

“I am deeply concerned that the actions of some in Government leadership have harmed perceptions about the importance of ethics and what conduct is, and is not, permissible,” he wrote.

Apol encouraged agency heads to “re-double” their commitment to ethics, telling Cabinet officials that it is “essential to the success of our republic that citizens can trust that your decisions and decisions made by your agency are motivated by the public good and not by personal interests.”

He then listed ways in which Cabinet officials could go about strengthening their focus on ethics. He told leaders to act with a “‘Should I do it?’ mentality,” as opposed to a “‘Can I do it?’ mentality.” He also encouraged agency chiefs to talk more about ethics at their departments, learn more about ethics policies and include ethics officials in more meetings.

Several Cabinet officials are under investigation by their departments’ inspectors general due to their use of non-commercial planes for official travel, including Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Tom Price recently resigned as health and human services secretary due to his use of private planes.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was also under review. The Treasury Department inspector general’s office found that his non-commercial air travel was legal, but warned Mnuchin to provide a more robust justification for those flights in the future.

Read Apol’s memo below: