WASHINGTON, D.C. – During the “sequestration” budget controversy earlier this year, Education Secretary Arne Duncan predicted the sky would fall if U.S. schools had their federal aid reduced even by a tiny amount.
“Kids are gonna get hurt,” was his impassioned refrain during the kerfuffle.
But the threat of “sequestration” cuts – which was known since 2011– didn’t stop Duncan’s department from racking up the frequent flier miles and hotel loyalty points during the 2012-13 school year. All told, the U.S. Department of Education spent $7,054,341.36 on airlines, hotels, restaurants, rental cars and miscellaneous expenses, according to documents obtained via an open records request.
EAGnews sought a detailed breakdown of travel, including cities visited, hotel names, restaurants, etc. but was told by department staff that wasn’t possible, writing in an email, “ED’s cost database does not have ad hoc query capability, meaning that we cannot readily generate individual line-item records; rather, we can provide summary travel expenses broken out by object classes – transportation, lodging, and miscellaneous – for each Principal Office within ED.”
James Hyler, the bureaucrat who provided the information, added by phone that the request would be “very complicated” and also require “enormous amounts of time.”
Despite the department’s budget currently being $68.4 billion, Hyler suggested EAGnews lobby for additional funds so the department could afford a better database.
The office of Federal Student Aid led the way with the most travel, racking up over $1.9 million in expenses.
Secretary Duncan’s travel total came to $629,730.04.
Other notable total expenditures by office included:
- Office of Civil Rights: $478,733.07
- Office of Communication Outreach: $485,649
- Office of Management: $296,117.11
- Office of Inspector General: $953,833.48
- Institute of Educational Science: $189,334.29
- Office of Elementary and Secondary Education: $458,673.05
Given that public education is a state and local issue, many question the necessity of even having a federal education department.
Those people may wonder why the department spent so much on international travel.
The records show the department spent $178,812.96 on airlines, “per diem” and miscellaneous expenses.
By Forbes Magazine’s methodology, cancelation of the department’s foreign travel alone would have funded about 6 months of White House tours – the most famous victim of the sequestration.
When asked for comment, Duncan said, “There’s no one in their right mind who would say this is good for kids and good for the country, yet somehow it becomes tenable in Washington. I just think people don’t spend enough time in the real world. And if we spent more time in the real world, we wouldn’t have this kind of intransigence here.”
Because, you know, that’s for the kids.
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