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A recently made FOIA request to the McAuliffe administration for documents detailing the use of state aircraft by members of his cabinet reveal that Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne — nominated by Governor-elect Ralph Northam for the role of Finance Secretary in the incoming Administration — has racked up $156,615 in flights on the state plane to the Commonwealth, based on the Department of Aviation’s $985 per hour of flight time on state aircraft.

Over four years, state documents reveal Layne averaged a trip aboard a state plan once every 5.8 days.  Which means that if only business days are counted, Layne took a flight on a state plane every four days.

Here are the raw numbers, based on the records provided to The Republican Standard in response to a FOIA request requesting a list of flights taken by the Governor’s cabinet covering a period from mid-January 2014 through mid-November 2017:

Over four years, Layne traveled by state plane 251 times.  That is more trips aboard a state airplane than any other individual Cabinet Secretary, and according to information given to TRS by the Department of Aviation, more than Governor Terry McAuliffe himself.

In fact, records given to TRS show that the combined total flights on state planes taken by the Governor (199) and First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe (45) are fewer than those taken by Layne.  What’s more, Layne has taken 90 more flights on state planes than than the combined flights taken by a majority of the members of Governor McAuliffe’s Cabinet, including:

  • Finance Secretary Ric Brown (five flights),
  • Agriculture and Forestry Secretary Basil I. Gooden (18),
  • Health and Human Resources Secretary Dr. William A. Hazel Jr. (10),
  • Veterans and Defense Affairs Secretary Carlos Hopkins (five flights),
  • Technology Secretary Karen Jackson (68),
  • Public Safety and Homeland Security Secretary Brian Moran (30),
  • Chief of Staff Paul Reagan (nine flights),
  • Secretary of Administration Nancy Rodrigues (zero flights),
  • Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson (zero flights),
  • Education Secretary Dietra Trent (five flights),
  • Natural Resources Secretary Molly Joseph Ward (11).

Layne’s 251 flights even exceeds the combined number of flights taken by former Commerce and Trade Secretary Maurice Jones (99) and current Commerce and Trade Secretary Todd Haymore (135).

Layne has taken 41 solo trips, according to records provided by the state. Many of them appear to be short-distance (100 miles or less) legs of round trips on the same day or consecutive days. He also flew multiple times with only one additional passenger. According to the Department of Aviation website, the state’s aircraft can hold up to 11 passengers.

This naturally adds up to one sobering statistic.  Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne, who has been nominated by Governor-elect Ralph Northam for the role of Finance Secretary in the incoming Administration, has by far taken the most trips on state planes among all of the cabinet secretaries, has taken dozens of trips as a single passenger, and has taken more trips on state aircraft than even the Governor.

‘Now hold on,’ one might say. ‘It’s not a big revelation that the Transportation Secretary has traveled on state planes more than his Cabinet contemporaries over the past four years. Traveling the state by road, rail, water, and the friendly skies would seem to be a natural part of the job description.’

In a vacuum, that might be true.  Yet the records show Layne has not only traveled more by state plane than any other McAuliffe Administration Cabinet Secretary or the Governor, Layne has also often traveled solo on relatively short distance flights (less than 150 miles), suggesting that traveling by road would have cost the Commonwealth considerably less than the price of flight on state aircraft.

Layne also brought his wife, Peggy, on flights aboard official state aircraft nearly a dozen times. Based on records provided by the state, Layne’s habit of bringing his spouse onboard appears unique among other Cabinet secretaries.

Over four years, Layne traveled by state plane 251 times.  That is more trips aboard a state airplane than any other individual Cabinet Secretary.

His wife Peggy’s 11 trips amount to more travel on the state plane than the individual totals of six McAuliffe Administration Cabinet Secretaries. In all, Layne logged more than 159 hours of flight time over four years. That amounts to $156,615 in costs to the Commonwealth based on the Department of Aviation’s publicly stated estimate of $985 per hour of flight time on state aircraft. It is conceivable that the cost of some of those flights could be even greater given that in some cases it is likely that pilots either flew back to the state aircraft hanger in Richmond or stayed overnight between flights. Both of those scenarios would seem to include additional travel and incidental costs.

Aubrey Layne’s overall flight time figures do not factor in flight time logged by Layne’s wife, Peggy, aboard state aircraft. Nor do they account for any potential additional cost that could be applicable to flights when Layne flew as the only passenger – the state Aviation Department says its “costs are competitive for 4 passengers versus airlines on short notice flights.”

While it should be noted that many of the smaller, 66 public use airports in Virginia are not regular destinations for commercial airlines, logistical convenience is just one factor public officials should consider when it comes to responsible stewardship of taxpayer property such as use of state aircraft.

These new revelations about the practices of Layne’s use of Virginia’s aviation resources as transportation secretary come during the controversy over the use of federal government aircraft by Trump Administration officials, in which the Acting Director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics issued a memo reminding federal officials of “The Role of Agency Leaders in Promoting an Ethical Culture.”

Much ado has been made this year about the use of government aircraft by some Trump Administration senior officials for travel that, charitably, blurred the line between professional and personal trips.  This memo expressed deep concern “that the actions of some in Government leadership have harmed perceptions about the importance of ethics and what conduct is, and is not, permissible.” The memo included a list of sample of actions that it recommended to improve ethics.The first suggested action for agency leaders: “Demonstrate personal ethical behavior by modeling a ‘Should I do it?’ mentality (versus a ‘Can I do it?’ mentality).”

Remember these headlines from three months ago?

  • “Tom Price sure knows a lot about waste, fraud and abuse.”
  • “Tom Price’s truly amazing plane apology.”
  • “Tom Price should pay taxpayers back.”

Investigations by the mainstream media led to the (pressured) resignation of former Health and Human Services Secretary Price. And to varying degrees, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his wife, Louise Linton, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have also been ensnared in the media dragnet.

While the national mainstream media likely has ulterior motives for questioning the travel of Trump Administration Cabinet-level officials (HINT: to swipe at the President), the general line of inquiry about the appropriate use of the people’s resources and property is not without merit.

In Virginia, these revelations over Layne’s conduct — a transportation secretary who refuses to use his own transportation network — raise new concerns over how Layne might approach such taxpayer-funded latitude as Virginia’s incoming Finance Secretary, one whose job description entails oversight responsibility for both the Commonwealth’s budget and use of taxpayer dollars.