Gov. Bill Haslam’s cabinet members have 24 fewer trips out-of-state trips this year than their predecessors did during the last six months of former Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration, state records show.
Bredesen’s department heads made 42 journeys outside the state from July 1 through Dec. 31 of 2010 with at least some of the costs charged to state government, according to reports posted on the Department of Finance and Administration’s website – a practice begun by Bredesen and continued by Haslam.
Some of the Bredesen cabinet travel occurred just weeks before the commissioner left office.
Former Finance Commissioner Dave Goetz went to Washington Sept. 29-Oct. 2 for what is described on the department’s website report as a meeting at the “Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information.” Goetz announced Nov. 8 that his resignation to become a vice president of Ingenix, a health care information technology and services company.
Former Revenue Commissioner Regan Farr, who announced in August his resignation effective Sept. 1, made two trips in July, the last being a visit to the New York University Summer Institute in Taxation Conference that ended July 30.
John Morgan, as deputy governor to Bredesen, traveled to Boston for a National Governors Association Converence for four days ending July 11. Two days later, he applied to become chancellor of the state Board of Regents and was elected to that position on August 6, taking office Sept. 30.
Former Economic and Community Development Commissioner Matt Kisber made the last trip at taxpayer expense by a Bredesen cabinet member, an early December journey to Washington for a Southern Governors Conference meeting that cost about $1,500.
Haslam was inaugurated Jan. 20, 2011, and from then until July 1, members of his cabinet have made 18 out-of-state trips, reports kept on the Department of Finance and Administration website show.
“We’ve made a concerted effort to limit out of state travel. There is certainly necessary travel, but there is a lot of work to be done here in Nashville such as conducting top to bottom reviews of each department and taking a look at boards and commissions throughout state government,” said Haslam spokesman David Smith in an email.
He said Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey must approve any out-of-state travel.
Four of the commissioners appointed by Bredesen retained their positions in the Haslam administration and made trips in both the last six months of 2010 and the first six months of 2011.
Of the four, the most frequent traveler is Greg Gonzales, commissioner of the Department of Financial Institutions. He made five trips in the last months of Bredesen’s administration – destinations including Sacramento and Lake Tahoe in California — and has made six under Haslam, the most recent being a June journey to Palm Beach, Fla., to speak at the Tennessee Bankers Association convention at a cost to taxpayers of about $1,200.
Other carryover commissioners traveling under both Bredesen and Haslam include Tourism Commissioner Susan Whitaker, who made four trips in Bredesen’s last months and has made one under Haslam.
Health Commissioner Susan Cooper made one trip under Bredesen in the period and two under Haslam while Adjutant General Terry “Max” Haston, who heads the Tennessee National Guard and the Department of the Military, each made one trip under Bredesen and one under Haslam.
The cost to taxpayers of the travel varies widely. Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Robert Martineau, for example, billed the state just $69 for incidental expense in a trip to Georgia while a visit to a conference on environmental law in Salt Lake City cost more than $1,500.
In some cases, the officials are attending an event where the sponsoring organization covers major costs such as motel and airplane tickets.
For the Bredesen cabinet, a brief review of earlier reports indicates the travel in the last six months of 2010 was roughly comparable to other six month periods. For example, Bredesen cabinet members made 50 out-of-state trips in the last six months of 2009.
Bredesen and Goetz were not available for comment.
Lola Potter, who served as a spokesman for the Department of Finance and Administration during Bredesen’s tenure and now works with the Haslam administration, noted in an email that Bredesen was involved in promoting use information technology in the health care field as a means of improving efficiency in TennCare and reducing costs
Goetz was point man in that effort as commissioner and it would be logical for him to attend a conference on the subject, she said, and his subsequent acceptance of a job in the area was “a pretty natural transition.” She said he was appointed to a national committee on health technology more than a year before the trip to Washington and that his eventual employer was not involved in the Washington gathering.