Throwback Thursday: Power Agency Spent $1.8M on Private Jet

In 1985, the Western Area Power Association, a part of the U.S. Department of Energy, spent $1.8 million — $5 million in 2023 dollars — buying a luxurious private jet for its executives.

Sen. William Proxmire, a Democrat from Wisconsin, awarded the agency his Golden Fleece Award for this unnecessarily luxurious expenditure.

According to Proxmire, the power association alleged that it needed this seven-passenger executive jet because employees often traveled to remote locations and needed to quickly respond to emergencies, and it also claimed the jet would make travel more efficient.

Despite citing concerns about limited travel on commercial airlines to remote locations, once it got the jet, power association officials only visited these remote locations 25 times over 13 months, while over 60% of trips were to major passenger airline hubs like Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Salt Lake City.

It made even fewer emergency trips, with 25 emergency power outages in the first six months of having the jet, but zero trips to travel to those emergencies.

The agency’s last concern was efficiency. It contended that making its employees wait in check in lines, wait for baggage, and deal with flight delays and layovers was cause to purchase the jet. These are realities of air travel that every commercial passenger has to deal with, and they don’t justify a multimillion dollar jet on the taxpayers dime.

In all likelihood, Proxmire muses, the jet was purchased because the fiscal year was coming to an end, and there was extra money available. Agencies always want to spend all of the money their given, lest they demonstrate to Congress they can run on a leaner budget, which might mean a smaller budget next year.

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