Look, Tim Geithner is sitting in the next row!

geithner.jpgThat's more or less what a relative of mine said to his wife yesterday as they settled in for their flight from Washington to L.A. Sitting in the aisle seat of coach was the Treasury Secretary, with a couple of security people nearby. Geithner was flying to L.A. to speak to the World Affairs Council, where he discussed the problems in Europe and the U.S. economy. But come on, coach? I contacted Jenni LeCompte, the Treasury Department's assistant secretary for public affairs, and it turns out that Geithner flies on commercial carriers for all domestic travel. And he flies coach. You might not realize it, given the recent GSA scandal, but there are all sorts of restrictions for government travel. From a Treasury Department document I came across:

First-class travel shall not be authorized, unless:

(1) coach-class or business-class is not reasonably available. Reasonably available means available on an airline that is scheduled to leave within 24 hours of the travelers proposed departure time, or scheduled to arrive within 24 hours of the travelers proposed arrival time;

(2) it is necessary to accommodate a disability or other special need. A disability must be substantiated in writing by a competent medical authority and be current within one year prior to travel. If the traveler is authorized to be accompanied by an attendant, then the attendant may be authorized to use first-class accommodations if the attendant�s services are required en route;

(3) exceptional security circumstances exist. Exceptional security circumstances may include, but are not limited to:

(a) Use of a lower class of accommodations would endanger the traveler�s life or Government property;

(b) The traveler is an agent on protective detail and is accompanying a traveler authorized to use first-class accommodations;

(c) The traveler is a courier or control officer accompanying controlled pouches or packages;

(4) it is required because of the mission;

Business class travel is restricted as well. Now I'm all for government frugality. It's great to see Gov. Brown take those Southwest shuttles between Sacramento and L.A., and there are worthwhile efforts to control spending on cars, cell phones, office space, computer equipment - it's a long list. But Tim Geithner is the Treasury Secretary of the United States. He's arguably the third or fourth most powerful person in the world. He works virtually nonstop in a pressure-cooker Cabinet job. And he's entitled to play the part. If some putzy CEO can have access to a corporate jet and some half-wit pop star can fly first class, so can the guy who determines the nation's economic policies. Just a matter of misplaced priorities.

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
The multi-talented Mark Lacter
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