WASHINGTON -- Ferrying an Air Force general, his aide and his pet cat across the Atlantic on an otherwise empty 200-seat government plane cost taxpayers a "wasteful" and "unnecessary" $116,000, the Pentagon's inspector general ruled yesterday.
The Air Force general, Joseph W. Ashy, could have flown from Italy to Colorado commercially for about $650, the inspector general said after investigating the use of the C-141B transport plane. The flight took 14 hours and involved two mid-air refuelings.
Although the trans-Atlantic flight was in line with what the inspector called the "accepted military practice" of flying senior officers on government planes, it nevertheless breached a Pentagon policy of trying to minimize travel costs and ensure efficient use of official aircraft.
Two days after the flight, General Ashy, accompanied by his wife, took another Air Force plane from Colorado to Washington. It was for a Pentagon ceremony marking his promotion from lieutenant general to full general to assume command of the U.S. Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado. Cost of the round trip: an estimated $5,000 to $7,500.
A commercial ticket would have cost about $500, but General Ashy decided to fly on a government plane at taxpayer expense to avoid paying for his wife's airfare, the report said.
"The flights from Colorado to Washington and return were a waste of funds for which General Ashy is responsible," the report said. It noted that the general could have either stopped in Washington for the promotion ceremony en route from Italy to Colorado, or been promoted at a ceremony in Colorado.
"In light of General Ashy's rank and position, he should be accountable for the abuse of resources" involved in the flight to ,, and from Washington, the report said.
General Ashy has repaid $5,000 to the Defense Department to offset the public cost of the flight, said Navy Capt. Mike Doubleday, a Pentagon spokesman. General Ashy was not available for comment.
Captain Doubleday added that he knew of no disciplinary or administrative action expected against General Ashy. Such action could be ordered by Defense Secretary William J. Perry or by Gen. Ronald Fogleman, the Air Force chief of staff.
General Fogleman was commander of the Air Mobility Command in September 1994, when General Ashy made his trans-Atlantic flight. General Fogleman approved the dispatch of the the C-141B from McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., to Naples to transport General Ashy to his new command in Colorado. But General Fogleman told the investigation that he followed the recommendation of his staff.
The investigation found that out of 15 generals or admirals recently reassigned to the U.S. mainland from overseas, 12 traveled on military aircraft. In 11 cases, the planes were sent solely to ferry the officers.
The report criticized the "accepted military practice" of providing government planes for senior officers without regard to taxpayer cost. In an accompanying letter to Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican who requested the investigation, Eleanor Hill, the Pentagon inspector general, wrote: "We concluded that General Ashy's flight reflects a culture that apparently lacks adequate cost consciousness in providing services to senior officials."
The report recommended that "military necessity" and cost, rather than rank, determine how senior officers travel. Mr. Perry yesterday ordered a Pentagon panel to review the report and suggest follow-up actions.
During the investigation, Air Force officials justified General Ashy's trans-Atlantic flight on the ground of "urgency." But General Ashy, who maintained that he did not ask for the special flight, said he took it because he thought it was "more convenient and frugal than a commercial flight."
General Ashy's use of the plane came to light after two retired officers and their wives, who, as military retirees, were entitled to seats on the plane if space was available, were left in Italy as General Ashy took off. The general told investigators that he did not know that the veterans wanted to travel with him.