The head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spent more than $123,000 to charter a private jet to fly to Bogota, Colombia, last fall instead of taking one of the agency’s 106 planes, McClatchy Newspapers report. The DEA paid a contractor an additional $5,380 to arrange Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart’s trip last Oct. 28-30 with an outside company. The DEA scheduled the trip as the U.S. was reeling from the worst economic crisis in decades and the national debt was climbing toward $10 trillion. Three weeks later, lawmakers slammed chief executive officers from three automakers for flying to Washington in private jets as Congress debated whether to bail out the auto industry.
William Brown, the agent in charge of the DEA’s aviation division, said he’d asked DEA contractor L-3 Communications to arrange the flight because the plane that ordinarily would’ve flown the administrator was grounded for scheduled maintenance. “”Was it excessive? I guess you could look at it that way, but I don’t think so,” he said. Last fiscal year, the DEA’s aviation division spent about $76 million. Steve Ellis, the vice president of the nonprofit group Taxpayers for Common Sense, said that although the flight consumed a small fraction of the DEA’s budget, the charter raised a red flag, especially because the agency paid an outside company to arrange it. “It looks bad,” Ellis said. “Clearly, the DEA or any federal agency should be watching their budgets more closely in these difficult times.”