WASHINGTON -- Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett of Western Maryland called yesterday for a congressional investigation into the use of White House helicopters by staff members despite a GAO report that found no evidence of widespread misuse of the copters.
Mr. Bartlett had asked the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, to gather information after David Watkins, a top White House aide, lost his job last year after using the presidential helicopter for a golfing trip to Holly Hills Country Club near New Market, in Mr. Bartlett's district.
"Mr. Watkins' flagrant abuse of taxpayer funds shook the faith of the American people in their government officials and begged the question about the possibility of other abuses," Mr. Bartlett, a Republican, said at a news conference yesterday.
Rep. Steve Horn, a California Republican, said the GAO findings would be reviewed publicly, probably in September, by the Government Reform and Oversight subcommittee that he heads.
In its investigation, the General Accounting Office found evidence of 14 staff flights that already had been disclosed by the White House, including the Watkins incident in May 1994.
But Mr. Bartlett argued that the seven-page report did not answer all the questions about the event. He also criticized the investigation for failing to suggest how to prevent any future misuse of taxpayer-funded government aircraft.
"My objectives," Mr. Bartlett said, "are now what they were from the very beginning, twofold: to restore confidence in government by having full and open disclosure. And encourage procedures and reporting that would discourage inappropriate behavior."
Asked yesterday about the possibility of hearings on the matter, Mike McCurry, the White House spokesman, said: "They are absolutely unnecessary. The reporting that we have done on the use of those helicopters is precisely what we indicated in public. And the GAO report has confirmed that."
Although Mr. Bartlett reported that the White House was "less than cooperative early on," he said officials have become more willing to disclose information about flight activity records. The GAO reported that most requests and approval to use the helicopter were done so verbally.
As of May 31, 1994, the White House requires that approval for the use of presidential helicopters by staff members be granted by the White House chief of staff or the deputy chief of staff.