New Documents Posted: Outside Influences, Luxuries on the Taxpayer Dime, and Agency Priorities in the Administration

HHS, OMB, DOD, NCUA and Treasury Office Renovation Expenses

We’ve been investigating the Trump administration’s office renovation expenses, shedding light on waste of taxpayer dollars across President Donald Trump’s cabinet. American Oversight obtained and recently posted office renovations for several agencies including: the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Department of Defense (DOD), the Department of the Treasury, and the National Credit Union Administration.

These records show more unnecessary and wasteful spending at the hands of the administration. Notably, Mick Mulvaney at OMB spent $400 to frame magazines (including a Rush Limbaugh newsletter), almost $200 to add a glass seal over a New York Times article, and $186 on an antique map. Other expenses include expensive chairs and $2,000 in art shipping costs. DOD office renovation receipts reveal that the agency spent $1,600 on hanging art.

At the National Credit Union Administration, the department head, J. Mark McWatters–who is reportedly working remotely from Dallas the majority of the time–spent almost $22,000 on office furniture.

Interior Communications with Coastal States Regarding Offshore Drilling and Outside Influences

The Department of the Interior’s response to our FOIA request seeking records regarding Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s decision to exempt Florida from the Trump administration’s plan to allow offshore oil and gas drilling close to American coastlines. These records include correspondence between Senator Marco Rubio’s office and Secretary Zinke’s staff, as well as information on Secretary Zinke’s participation in an American Petroleum Institute meeting in March 2017, which was hosted at the Trump International Hotel. We’ve been investigating Secretary Zinke’s unethical leadership at Interior for over a year and the public has a right to know if political motives went into his decision to exempt Florida from coastal drilling.

EPA Records of Nancy Beck’s Communications with the American Chemistry CouncilEven though Scott Pruitt is no longer at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it doesn’t mean that senior EPA appointees aren’t still working with the industries they are supposed to be regulating. We’ve just posted ethics waivers granted to Deputy Assistant Administrator Nancy Beck, as well as her communications with her former employer–the American Chemistry Council.

Education Emails Scheduling a Frank Luntz Slide Presentation

American Oversight also obtained Education Department emails scheduling a meeting with Republican pollster Frank Luntz, where he planned to deliver a 60-slide presentation on messaging about “vouchers, charter schools, teacher pay” and other issues. We’ve been investigating influence and access at the agency, as well as DeVos’ favoring of charter school and for-profit institutions. See our FOIAs seeking to uncover the influence that outside entities have on Education’s policy changes and Secretary Betsy DeVos’ calendars which show her priorities for the department.

USTR Records Regarding Career Holdovers from the Previous AdministrationU.S. Trade Representative response to our request for records regarding holdovers from the previous administration. Records include email correspondence from Michael Cernovich, an alt-right commentator, to Trump political appointee Payne Griffin asking about “Never Trumpers.”

Small Business Administration Emails Regarding Career Holdovers

After reports surfaced that State Department career employees were being subjected to social media monitoring, we’ve been investigating expectations of loyalty and retaliation against former Obama administration employees and career staff. We FOIA’d for communications and records to determine whether and to what extent  expectations of loyalty exist across the administration.

One email from the Small Business Administration included communications with a White House volunteer who stated that “POTUS needs [all] of the loyal help he can get; just saying.”

Interior Calendars For Zinke’s Chief of Staff

In August 2018, we received calendars for Chief of Staff Scott Hommel from Jan 30, 2017 – July 2, 2018, and Deputy Secretary and OFAS conference rooms from January 23 – June 5, 2018. We’ve also obtained calendars for Zinke’s Deputy Chief of Staff. Even though Interior has still not released full, unredacted versions of Secretary Zinke’s calendars, these calendars provide some insight into what he has been up to as head of the agency. Entries include meetings with the Heritage Foundation and with Madeleine Pickens, a wealthy developer.

FAA Records of Aircraft Use by Trump Administration Officials

American Oversight obtained records via FOIA litigation from the Federal Aviation Administration showing the use of specific FAA aircraft by administration officials, including Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who reportedly spent $94,000 on chartered flights. The records also show aircraft uses by Energy Secretary Rick Perry, FEMA Administrator Brock Long, and former FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

We’ve been investigating government flights at taxpayer expense since former HHS Secretary Tom Price spent upwards of $60,000 on chartered flights and resigned in September 2017. He was far from the only administration official to use his position for luxury travel and other perks.