Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg ducked phone calls and public appearances while on a generous eight-week paid paternity leave amid infrastructure talks on Capitol Hill and a historic supply chain crisis.
According to documents made public by a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from Protect the Public’s Trust, a nonprofit government watchdog, that were shared with the Washington Examiner Thursday, Buttigieg steered clear of multiple official duties in the fall of 2021. Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten, adopted newborn twins in early September of that year.
During Buttigieg’s paternity leave, a staffer for the transportation secretary emailed Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley’s office to decline an invitation to discuss bridge funds.
“Unfortunately, the Secretary is currently on leave due to the birth of his twins, and that may lead to a delay in possibly scheduling in the future,” the unnamed staffer wrote.
The Federalist filed a similar FOIA request demanding records related to the secretary’s prolonged absence. The Transportation Department acknowledged the request on Dec. 3, 2021, but has since stonewalled compliance with the public transparency law despite a dozen follow-ups by phone and email.
According to documents unearthed by Protect the Public’s Trust, Buttigieg continued to abdicate his cabinet-level duties, citing his paternity leave as the reason for turning down an invitation to an Illinois bridge opening and a discussion with the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
After the transportation chief faced criticism for taking eight weeks off — more than five times the amount of leave taken by 70 percent of fathers who take time off for a newborn — Buttigieg defended his absence on CNN.
“Even though I have been on maternity leave, and I’m proud of it, obviously, given the nature of my job, when you take a job like mine, you understand and accept that you’re going to have to be available 24/7, depending on what’s going on, and you’re going to have to engage,” Buttigieg said. “And I did, even if that meant taking a phone call or making a decision from a hospital room. But I am so thankful for the phenomenal work that my colleagues at the Department of Transportation have done and are doing.”
Buttigieg’s extended absence coincided with congressional talks on infrastructure, in which the secretary’s department was ultimately allotted more than $100 billion for public transportation.
The extended leave also overlapped with the bottleneck supply chain crisis that saw more than 150 ships wait in California ports to offload cargo before the winter holiday season.
Buttigieg’s tenure in the Biden administration has been marked by prominent turmoil, unusual for a cabinet-level position that’s traditionally a quiet role out of public view.
On Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded all air traffic for the first time since 9/11. Government officials blamed a corrupted file for the chaos.
Last month, a combination of inclement weather and internal strife led Southwest Airlines to cancel about 13,000 flights over several days around Christmas.
This article has been updated since publication.