EDITORIAL: High-flying feds could use Malheur County gut check

Some in public service tend to spend government money as if it’s Monopoly money. High-flying federal officials chartering private jets to flit about the country are in that category. They probably never considered they were picking taxpayers’ pockets, but they were.

Let’s put this in perspective. The average weekly wage in Malheur County is $664, give or take. That’s gross pay – not take home. And that’s the average. Those making minimum wage are well below that.

Now, let’s take a look at some of this federal travel. Ryan Zinke, the nation’s secretary of the Interior, earlier this year chartered a flight from Las Vegas to Montana, where he has a home. The tab, according to press reports, was $12,375.

Let’s imagine Zinke called the average worker in Malheur County. “Hello, Mr. Worker, I need to get to Montana quick. I am going to need every dollar your earn for the next 18 weeks to pay for it.”

Every dollar. For one flight that was no emergency. That Malheur County worker would have to labor for nearly 10 months to pay for that one flight.

Or consider Tom Price, who just quit as the nation’s secretary of Health and Human Services. He’s spent close to a $1 million for special flights here and abroad. So far, none of them appear vital to the safety and well being of the country. Price, a doctor, certainly wasn’t dashing to Tennessee to conduct a life-saving medical procedure. He was going to give a speech – and have lunch with his son.

Price said he would repay the federal treasury about $52,000 for some of his flights. He did so only after he was outed as a wastrel. Let’s go back to Mr. Worker in Malheur County. How long would he have to work to get the feds that $52,000? About a year and a half. That’s right – a working stiff would have to give up every dime he or she earned in 18 months to fund a part of Price’s travel.

In Washington, memos and directives are flying to end this nonsense. We think these matters could be handled with a single phone call. Each month, the federal government should name one Mr. or Ms. Worker somewhere in the country to be the approving authority for any fancy government travel. Take Zinke, for example. Before calling for approval, he’d get a copy of Mr. Worker’s last pay stub. Then he’d have to call, describe the trip’s purpose and cost, and seek an okay. You know what the answer would be – and as it should be. — LZ