Documents made public by the nonprofit government watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT) on Wednesday show Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was completely absent during the supply-chain crisis of 2021 contrary to claims otherwise.
According to the ethics group, Buttigieg’s calendar showed no meetings from the time Buttigieg left for paternity leave in mid-August to Oct. 6, 2021. During that time, a “breathtaking backup of container ships” began to swell on the West Coast, and Americans faced empty shelves at grocery stores.
Ninety percent of new fathers take paternity leave, but 70 percent of them take two weeks or less. Buttigieg, however, took a whopping eight-week absence and responded to criticism with an interview on CNN that fall.
“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.
Calendar records disclosed to PPT through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), however, show Buttigieg was a “no-show” during the supply-chain fiasco.
“Secretary Buttigieg claims that, even while on paternity leave, he was on call in an emergency. But when it came to the supply chain crisis, one of the most pressing and consequential emergencies plaguing Americans at the time, he was nowhere to be found,” said PPT Director Michael Chamberlain in a press release. “While we were promised honesty and competence from the Biden Administration, this demonstration of deception and deceit is not only disheartening but further erodes the public’s already all-time low trust in government.”
Records made public by the group last week, as reported by the Washington Examiner, showed Buttigieg also used paternity leave to dodge public appearances and meetings with influential lawmakers on Capitol Hill. While the nation grappled with issues in supply chains, bipartisan infrastructure talks were underway for a trillion-dollar package heavily reliant on the Transportation Department. The agency was ultimately awarded more than $100 billion for public transit.
As negotiations continued in Washington, emails revealed by a FOIA request show Buttigieg’s aides cited paternity leave to avoid a meeting with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to discuss a major Midwestern bridge project.
“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,” an unnamed staffer wrote.
On Friday, Buttigieg’s husband, Chasten, spouted off on Twitter about reports of the secretary’s absence, claiming critics were focused on old news.
“It’s been 17 months,” Chasten wrote in response to an article from Fox News. “You need new material. Go yell at an M&M.”
Buttigieg’s Transportation Department, however, blocked coverage of the agency chief’s absence by stonewalling compliance with FOIA requests on the issue. Chamberlain’s group filed its initial FOIA request in December of 2021 but was forced to sue for the records in June.
The Transportation Department is still refusing compliance with FOIA requests on the subject submitted by The Federalist in December 2021.
Buttigieg’s two-year tenure at the helm of the Transportation Department has been marked by turmoil as the secretary has presided over a series of crises, forcing the relatively quiet cabinet role into a hotbed of controversy.
Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) forced a grounding of all air travel for the first time since 9/11. Mass cancellations of more than 13,000 flights over the holidays in December, due to a combination of inclement weather and internal strife within the airlines, have also raised concerns about the competence of the secretary to keep the nation’s transportation running smoothly.