Nothing shouts success quite like a private jet. Rap musicians like Lil Wayne boast of the "G5 sitting on the runway," the Gulfstream V executive jet that's a perk that comes with topping the charts and pumping out platinum albums. It costs $40 million to buy a G5, but if you have to ask how much it costs to keep it flying, you can't afford it.
Money is the last thing on the minds of federal officials who keep their Gulfstreams fueled and ready to fly to locations, disclosed and otherwise, at taxpayer expense. As our Phillip Swarts reported in this newspaper on Thursday, the federal government maintains a fleet of 1,700 private jets, and several top bureaucrats think they're entitled to use them for their everyday needs. It makes them feel grand, as important as a drug dealer or a rapper.
There are no lines, no security and no delays when traveling on a private jet. The swiveling leather recliners provide ample legroom, and there's no need to scramble for luggage space in the overhead bin. Everyone gets his own stewardess. Flying on a private jet makes flying first class on a commercial airliner seem more like steerage.
Steerage is where Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller likely think they are, after they were called to account last year by a Government Accountability Office audit that discovered the department's "counterterroism" luxury jets were used on personal errands. The FBI's deputy director took 38 personal trips. In several cases, the top Justice officials were flown a few miles from an "undisclosed location" within the Washington region to Washington Reagan National Airport because taking a car was so low class, so inconvenient. Citing "national security," the department ignored government travel rules meant to prevent abuse.
The General Services Administration (GSA) is required to police the use of government equipment, but the agency knows better than to object when a senior bureaucrat says the magic word, terrorism. "Really, there's been so little attempts by anyone to rein in the intelligence community that the GSA just got scared off," says Melanie Sloan, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "It seems like every administration wants to give the intelligence community a pass, no matter what they're doing."
The watchers at GSA have had their own problems with self-indulgence. Employees were caught throwing themselves a $900,000 party at a Las Vegas hotel, but for once they flew on commercial airliners. The rest of the government must lower itself to flying as most Americans do, middle seat or not. Perhaps the Transportation Security Administration would be on its best behavior if more high-level government officials subjected themselves to the treatment the flying public endures.
Government officials who want a G5 must earn it. That means being a success in the private sector, not pretending to be one while living large at public expense.