Haslam's Cabinet making fewer out-of-state trips

Friday, July 22, 2011, Vol. 35, No. 29

KNOXVILLE (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam's Cabinet members have taken fewer out-of-state trips this year than their predecessors did in their last six months of Gov. Phil Bredesen's administration.

Haslam's Cabinet members have made 18 trips outside the state between Jan. 20 and July 1, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel, which compared reports posted on the Department of Finance and Administration's website. The reporting of reimbursements for the trips online was a practice begun under the Bredesen administration that has been continued by Haslam.

Haslam spokesman David Smith said they have made a concerted effort to limit out-of-state travel and Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey must approve any 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," Smith told the newspaper in an email.

Bredesen's department heads made 42 trips outside Tennessee from July 1 through the end of 2010 and some of the department heads traveled just weeks before leaving office.

Finance Commissioner Dave Goetz went to Washington, D.C., on Sept. 29 through Oct. 2 for a meeting at the Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information. On Nov. 8, Goetz announced his resignation to become a vice president of a health care information technology and services company.

John Morgan served as deputy governor to Bredesen and traveled to Boston for a National Governors Association Conference in July. Two days later, he applied to become chancellor of the state Board of Regents and was elected to the position in August.

Bredesen and Goetz were not available for comment when reached by the newspaper.

Lola Potter, who served as a spokeswoman for the Department of Finance and Administration under both governors, noted in an email that Bredesen was involved in promoting information technology in the health care field as a means of improving efficiency and reducing costs.

Potter said Goetz was point man in that effort as commissioner and it would be logical for him to attend a conference on the subject. He had been appointed to the national health information group a year earlier, and his subsequent acceptance of a job in the area was "a pretty natural transition," she said.

The most frequent traveler who has served under both administrations has been Greg Gonzales, commissioner of the Department of Financial Institutions. He made five trips in the closing months of 2010 and has made six trips under Haslam's administration.

The cost to taxpayers for these trips varies widely. In some cases, officials attend events for which the sponsoring organization covers major costs such as lodging and airplane tickets.

A trip to Georgia by Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Robert Martineau cost $69 for incidental expenses, but the state paid more than $1,500 for a trip that he took to Salt Lake City.