DOT IG Documents Abuse of Federal Resources

WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said Friday a report detailing the Federal Aviation Administration’s involvement in the search for Democratic lawmakers boycotting a controversial redistricting vote in the Texas House of Representatives clearly shows a misuse of federal resources and the need for tighter controls on information about private planes in flight.

The Department of Transportation Inspector General’s Office, which released its report late Friday, documents that a member of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s staff called the FAA to obtain information about the location of a plane believed to be carrying the Democratic legislators. DeLay’s office was, in short order, provided with both the current location of the plane and information about the plane’s previous flights.

“This report leaves no doubt that the FAA was used to search for a private plane to pursue a partisan political end,” Lieberman said. “In this highly security-intense environment, where it is very unlikely an ordinary citizen could get this type access and information so quickly from FAA, this strikes me as a clear abuse of power and federal government resources and one that should never happen again.”

Although some of the information Delay obtained may have been available through commercial services, there is no reason to believe that ordinary members of the public would have been given this information had they called FAA to request it, let alone gotten it so quickly.

Lieberman requested the DOT investigation May 27, 2003. At that time, he also asked the White House to produce a list of its contacts with federal agencies that may have been involved in locating the plane. Previously, he had asked the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the misuse of DHS employees in tracking the Texas Democrats. Lieberman has requested that the DHS Inspector General’s office reopen its investigation into the matter because its first effort failed to answer key questions.

The DOT IG’s report further revealed the absence of proper controls on federal data about individual airplane flights. The report said greater controls are needed on information provided by the FAA to law enforcement and other government entities. And the report raised questions about whether information about the location of private planes that is now public should remain public.

“This is sensitive information that could be abused by terrorists and other criminals,” Lieberman said. “We need to reconsider whether it should be so readily available. I am pleased that, in response to the DOT IG’s investigation, the FAA is moving to review its policies regarding the availability of this information.”