WASHINGTON -- The Air Force provides free plane travel for top White House officials, Cabinet officers and members of Congress on a no-questions-asked basis 900 times a year at an annual cost of $150 million, the General Accounting Office said yesterday.
The study of the use of the 89th Air Wing showed that no one attempted to determine whether the trips were justified or whether less costly commercial flights were available. The GAO called for tighter controls to restrict the practice.
"In most cases, the use of the 89th Wing aircraft is considerably more expensive than commercial aircraft for similar trips," the GAO report stated.
The rules for traveling on the VIP flights are so broad and vague that they are virtually meaningless, the GAO report concluded in recommending strict accountability for trips taken on military aircraft.
It said such flights should be made only in exceptional cases, and each justification should be documented.
Vice President Dan Quayle was asked about reports that he and White House Chief of Staff Samuel K. Skinner took at least four such VIP flights, primarily to play golf.
"We complied with all of the rules and regulations," Mr. Quayle said, quickly changing the subject to charge that the Democratic leadership in Congress was the real problem and questions about his air travel were merely a "diversionary tactic."
The GAO study was made public by Rep. Frank Horton, a Republican from New York, as House investigators questioned White House officials about the size of President Bush's staff and the nature of the perquisites accorded members of the executive branch during a subcommittee hearing.
The GAO report indicated that 42 percent of the flights aboard 89th Air Wing planes were taken by the president or White House aides, the report said. Defense Department officials accounted for 39 percent of the flights, and members of Congress, often traveling overseas in large delegations, were aboard 16 percent of the time.
The GAO also reported that Air Force One, the $181 million jumbo jet reserved for the president's use, costs about $25,000 an hour to operate.