Report Faults Officials' Reliance on FBI Planes : Justice Dept.: Thornburgh, Sessions take the aircraft for official trips. The GAO says they could be better utilized in inquiries; questions cost.


Congressional investigators, in a report to be released today, question Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh's heavy reliance on FBI aircraft and pilots to transport him to official speaking engagements, meetings and field office visits around the country.

The report by the General Accounting Office, Congress' watchdog unit, also suggests that FBI planes would be more effectively used in investigations rather than for carrying FBI Director William S. Sessions on official travel.

Rep. Bob Wise (D-W.Va.), who asked for the report, and the GAO agreed with the Justice Department-FBI contention that regularly scheduled airliners cannot satisfy the security requirements of the officials, both of whom have had threats made on their lives.

But the GAO report, a copy of which was made available to The Times, faulted the Justice Department for not making a cost analysis of using private aircraft charters to transport the officials, and for instead concluding "intuitively" that government aircraft would be cheaper.

"GAO's analysis also indicates that private aircraft services can meet the executives' requirements better than regularly scheduled airlines," the report said. "Thus, justice officials responsible for the executives' security should determine whether (private charters or leased aircraft) are satisfactory. If they are, private aircraft services should be used" under Office of Management and Budget requirements, the report said.

However, Dan Eramian, a department spokesman, said that a cost analysis by the department after the GAO completed its study found that Thornburgh's and Sessions' use of three FBI aircraft, all of which were seized in narcotics investigations, saved taxpayers $500,000 a year. Eramian declined comment when asked why the department had waited until the GAO study was completed before running its cost analysis.

In a letter to Thornburgh and Sessions accompanying the report, Wise noted that the three aircraft they used were intended, under FBI policy, for law enforcement missions, including narcotics control and counterterrorism efforts.

Wise added that the GAO found that the aircraft are used for executive transportation 53% of the time, 23% for investigative flights and 24% for pilot training and maintenance.

In commenting on GAO's findings, Eramian responded as if the agency had questioned the frequency of Thornburgh's travel and not his reliance on FBI aircraft and pilots who are also trained as investigators.

"The Department of Justice is a field agency, not centered in the District of Columbia," he said. "There are 93 U.S. attorneys' offices all across the country. The attorney general feels it's good policy for the general to visit the troops and see what's going on."

During the period studied by the GAO--August, 1988, through July, 1989--Thornburgh took 39 trips using government aircraft, usually accompanied by at least one staff member and an FBI security detail.

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