- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2012

Americans love their cars, and federal employ- ees are no different. Bureaucrats espe- cially love when those wheels are paid for and maintained at taxpayer expense. With gas prices sky-high, ordinary citizens have had to cut back. Uncle Sam ought to follow suit.

That’s what Rep. Joe Barton was driving at when questioning high-ranking Energy Department officials during a recent House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing about the size of the department’s vehicle fleet and the amount it spends on transportation. After deflecting numerous queries, Energy budget director Christopher Johns told the Texas Republican the department has 15,108 vehicles, which works out to about one for each of its nearly 15,000 employees.

If this seems like a lot of vehicles, that’s because it is. If 15,000 automobiles were parked in a line bumper to bumper, they would stretch from the Energy Department’s Washington headquarters to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, a distance of nearly 39 miles.

The Energy Department’s inspector general, Greg Friedman, informed committee members the federal organization spends about $60 million a year on transportation, which he characterized as “a paltry sum.” At the current federal mileage reimbursement rate of 55.5 cents per mile, that’s enough cash to cover expenses for each of Energy’s employees to climb into a separate department vehicle at D.C. headquarters, drive to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, return to Washington, and then turn around and head out west again, stopping just short of Denver.

As out of control as that might seem, Energy’s car collection pales in comparison to the rest of Uncle Sam’s garage, which the General Services Administration says contains about 662,000 vehicles. If those vehicles were parked bumper to bumper, they would stretch from the White House out Interstate 270 in Maryland, then extend along I-70 all the way to Denver - with more than 13,000 autos left over.

If only all those vehicles were parked. Instead, they are tooling over hill and dale in every state, racking up 5.1 billion miles during fiscal 2010 while guzzling 414 million gallons of gas, the GAO reported. Of course with a country as expansive as the United States, automobiles are an essential tool for getting around. The question is whether some of these free rides have become yet another perk for pampered bureaucrats with lifetime job security.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s fiscal 2013 budget would reduce the federal fleet by 20 percent, exempting Defense Department and U.S. Postal Service vehicles. However, the Democratic-controlled Senate’s refusal to participate in efforts to pass a budget means Uncle Sam won’t be handing the keys back to taxpayers any time soon.

That’s a shame. In this torpid economy with persistently high unemployment and $4 a gallon gas, public servants need to tighten their belts along with the rest of us. Americans can no longer afford Leviathan on wheels.

The Washington Times