Read It: State Auditor Report Says Burgum Administration Has Misused State Aircraft

Governor Doug Burgum

Earlier this year news broke that Auditor Josh Gallion was reviewing Governor Doug Burgum’s administration’s use of state aircraft. This has earned Gallion some attacks in the press and elsewhere, yet some preliminary reports (such as Lt. Governor Brent Sanford being flown across the state for a coin flip) sure seemed to indicate that there may be some fire behind the smoke.

Remember, the cost of using these planes is not cheap. According to the audit report, operating one of the aircraft costs $1,410 per flight hour plus another $104 per hour in pilot costs.

You can now read the full report below. It covered March 1st 2016, the end of former Governor Jack Dalrymple’s administration, to February 28, 2018 and over $695,000 worth of flights.

This is a statement Governor Doug Burgum’s office sent me about the report:

“The Governor’s Office has utilized state aircraft and resources within budget, within established guidelines and with the purpose of furthering state business while using taxpayer dollars in a prudent manner. As NDDOT policy says, the state aircraft are a valuable tool to maximize the state’s resources, drastically reducing travel time and allowing employees to be more productive while traveling. The roles of Governor, Lieutenant Governor and First Lady are not desk jobs. We operate efficiently and effectively, with a priority on reinventing government and engaging with constituents all across the state.”

The most notable thing is that use of the aircraft by the Governor’s office certainly did jump during the first year of the Burgum administration per this chart from the report:

There were four specific areas of inappropriate use of aircraft identified by the auditior:

  • Commuting: The auditors found 17 flights between the Burgum and Dalrymple administrations they considered to be entirely or in part “commuting.” Which is to say non-reimbursable travel for a state official. State law states that the governor shall live in the residence provided to him in Bismarck by the taxpayers. Any expenses related to traveling to or from another residence should be paid for by the governor (or other state official, as the case may be). The governor’s office objected to this finding. “We operate economically and within budget, with a primary focus on outcomes and impact,” they said in their response.
  • Non-state employees: The auditors found 14 flights which “transported non-state employees including the spouses, children, and other affiliations of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Governor’s office staff, and other elected officials” but “were unable to identify the official business purpose” for those flights. The governor’s office disagreed with this finding. “The non-state employees identified by the State Auditor were serving as temporary state volunteers supporting the Governor or Lieutenant Governor in their roles and furthering a public purpose.”
  • Insurance: The auditors note that state insurance for passengers on state aircraft only covers non-employees in acts of negligence. The auditors ask that the governor’s office not expose the state to additional liability. The governor’s office agreed. “We are not exposing the state to additional risk, as DOT aircraft are insured through a standard commercial aviation policy that provides thirdparty liability coverage of up to $10,000,000 for the operation of the aircraft as well as medical expense and physical damage coverage.”
  • No official purpose: “The state airplane was used for flights for which the Office of the State Auditor was unable to identify the business purpose,” the audit report states. The recommendation from auditors is that the governor’s office use a form reporting the official business purpose of each flight. The governor’s office agrees with reporting the business purpose, though they don’t want to put the DOT in the position of having to approve use of the aircraft by their bosses (i.e. the governor and the director of the DOT who is appointed by the governor).

So, in summary, the governor disputes two of the audit findings. They partially agree on a third, and totally agree on a fourth.

One really interesting aspect is the report is that auditors tried to take a look at the security services provided to the governor but got shut down by the North Dakota Highway Patrol. That section of the audit report is pretty short and sweet:

That…seems ridiculous. Back in April I submitted a request to the NDHP for information on the expense of providing security to Governor Burgum. I had heard rumors about the security services being used excessively and I wanted to see if there was any truth to them. I, like the auditor, got shut down. ” For security reasons, we cannot divulge specific information which may compromise the safety of those who depend on these services as stated in NDCC 44-04-24 and NDCC 44-04-25,” Lieutenant Michael Roark told me in an emailed response to my request.

UPDATE: Mike Nowatzki, spokesperson for Burgum, tells me the NDHP did provide some information to the auditor. I’m going to try and get my hands on that because I think they’re being a bit too cute with this exemption from the law.

It seems to me that the NDHP can provide some details about the cost and scope of the security detail without divulging information which could jeopardize the Governor. I mean, the Secret Service makes that kind of information available, why can’t the North Dakota Highway Patrol?

Anyway, the full report is below.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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