The Department of Transportation (DOT) is being sued by a federal watchdog after Pete Buttigieg, its secretary, took paternity leave in 2021 without a White House announcement amid an escalating supply chain crisis.
Protect the Public’s Trust, a group probing ethics issues in the government, announced a transparency lawsuit Thursday seeking to obtain information concerning who was in charge of the DOT when Buttigieg took time off. The Transportation Secretary left in mid-August 2021 for a little over a month, Politico reported.
“Plaintiff deeply respects Secretary Buttigieg’s commitment to his family and understands his desire to spend time with his new children,” the lawsuit stated. “However, he is still the Presidentially appointed, Senate confirmed head of a cabinet-level agency that has wide ranging responsibilities and an annual budget of over $80 billion.”
“Accordingly, the American people deserve to know if someone else was acting as the primary decision maker for any period of time or if the Department was operating at a reduced capacity while the Secretary was on leave,” it also stated.
The DOT declined a request for comment, pointing The Daily Caller News Foundation to Buttigieg’s remarks on CNN in October 2021 on the situation. Buttigieg said he was “proud” of taking paternity leave and “thankful for the phenomenal work” of his colleagues.
Buttigieg’s paternity leave came shortly after economists Susan Helper and Evan Soltas wrote a blog post for the White House discussing how businesses with “complex supply chains” are nearly “running out of stock.” Prior to this, Ford’s Chief Financial Officer John Lawler announced that more than 60,000 vehicles were unfinished due to the semiconductor chip shortage.
The lawsuit comes after the watchdog group filed a Freedom of Information Act request in December 2021. Protect the Public’s Trust asked for records relating to “the delegation of authority” from Buttigieg to other officials and how decisions were made without the secretary’s input, according to the lawsuit.
The DOT acknowledged receipt of the records request the day it was filed, the lawsuit says, and in February denied a request for expedited processing. While the DOT said it would “respond within the next 5 to 7 weeks,” the watchdog says it “has received no further updates from the Department.”
“As a parent myself I recognize that raising children is the most important job in the world,” said Michael Chamberlain, director of Protect the Public’s Trust, in a statement. “However, regardless of any individual’s circumstances, it is incumbent upon the leadership of an agency with an $80 billion budget and tens of thousands of employees, to ensure that the work on behalf of the American public continues to be performed and that the decisions affecting their daily lives continue to be made.”