University System Exempted From Bill To Manage Use Of State Aircraft


One of the big stories we here at SAB worked long and hard on over the last couple of years is use of the state’s aircraft. Specifically, use of aircraft owned by the university system. At a time when the university system, including North Dakota State University, was crying the blues over loss of funding they were spending thousands of dollars per flight to shuttle officials (including anti-Sioux nickname activists) back and forth to the 2011 legislative session to testify, often asking for more money.

It is the very pinnacle of hypocrisy to fly in a private airplane to tell legislators you’re underfunded, when driving would be a fraction of the cost.

North Dakota State University was by far the worst offender, spending 400% of the going market rate for completely unnecessary air travel, but that figure only came to light after the legislature took up a study into the use of state aircraft. But even there, the university system couldn’t deal honestly with our elected officials, trying to claim that their airplane was exempt from the study.

That turned out not to be the case (we caught them in the act), and after months of heat from the legislature NDSU decided to put their airplane up for sale (no word on whether or not they’ve actually sold it).

I was happy to learn, heading into this legislative session, that there would be a bill creating a management system for use of the state’s airplanes. Such a system would go a long way toward preventing the sort of abuse of the planes seen in the university system, except much to my chagrin I see that the bill actually exempts the university system from the management system.

You can read HB1033 here, which specifically excludes from the management system “Entities under the control of the state board of higher education.”

Much of the impetus for this legislation was abuse of state aircraft by the university system, yet the legislation exempts the university system.

Outside of the flight school at the University of North Dakota, I can’t imagine a single good reason why any of the state’s universities should have their own airplanes. University officials who need to travel by air can either fly commercial, like the rest of us plebes, or they can charter a plane if such an extravagance is warranted.

But if the university system is to own airplanes, their use should be under the oversight of every other aircraft owned by the state.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • The Whistler

    All public travel should be on the states website. I’m not against the legislature, for instance, having a meeting with other legislators. However it should be reasonable and not held in Hawaii for instance.

    Transparency will help restore some confidence in state government.

    • Rob

      The FAA keeps a database.of.all.air travel anyway. The pilots.have to.file plans and.manifests. The state keeping.track all isnt any major feat.

      • The Whistler

        I think this should apply to all out of state travel no matter how they go. I suspect that there is plenty of abuse that would be ferreted out if they posted all of the documents.

        And if the system is clean then that would be information I’d want to know too.

        • Rob

          I think you can always request the records, it should all be open, but you’re right. Maybe instead of an aircraft management system we need a travel management system that incorporates everything,

          • RCND

            South Carolina has a good system which provides very explicit details for their aircraft usage, to include passenger names and travel purpose. I believe cost info is also included. Its all online where anyone can go look at any time too

      • two_amber_lamps

        Not necessarily true. Pilots are only required to file flight plans if they travel under IFR (instruments required) conditions, travel internationally, or enter controlled airspace (above 20k ft. for example). For in-state commuter traffic during good weather conditions it’s completely up to the pilot if they decide to file a flight plan… however there is no FAA regulation saying they have to.

        • RCND

          Their insurance carriers may require it though

          • The Whistler

            State law can and should require a flight plan to be filed in state owned or leased planes.

          • two_amber_lamps


          • RCND

            Agreed. It also makes sense from a safety standpoint

          • two_amber_lamps

            May also be able to track it thru the maintenance records on the aircraft.

  • two_amber_lamps

    Why answer for breaking the rules when you can just change the rules… what a concept!

    • Rob

      Funny how that works isn’t it?

  • Drain52

    I notice no legislator has the nerve to put his name to this bill. Let’s hope they have the nerve to oppose the exemption.

  • OldConserv2011

    Rob, who drafted and sponsored this bill?

    • RCND

      It was drafted as a result of an interim study of the legislature, thus Legislative Management is listed on the bill

  • RCND

    Double palm to the face shaking your head left and right unbelievable

    • Rob

      My reaction exactly.

  • Captjohn

    When we put the state motor pool together back in the 90’s we found all kinds of abuse by different agencies of the privilege of having a state furnished automobile.
    The most egregious offender was higher Ed. When they demanded to be exempted from coming under the motor pool I went ballistic. It is always the worst offenders who want to be exempted. The legislature better amend out the exemption or they will look like they don’t have the guts to take on higher ed when it really counts. These are the type of bills you need to watch the Appropriation Committees on. You’ll know who is in the hip pocket of the system..

    • Rob

      Legislature definitely needs to stand up on this. If they don’t have that level of gumption, this is a lost cause.

  • JW-American

    This is what I would do if I were king of ND for a while, I would put in law that states that each and every Higher Ed institition would follow the lead of nearly every school distric in the state by monthy public notification of expendetures, If I can look in the paper and see the school district spent $18.89 at the hardware store for weed killer, I should be able to follow where Higher ed spends hundreds of millions a year. Just break each college down to its different departments, each, like the shool districts publishes online its expenses, broken down by instuctor admin and outside purchased products. The general maintenance budgets would be broken down by building and by other criteria. The motor pool will list vehical useage including which department and where the car was driven and how much fuel and per mile cost.

    this stuff is all recorded now, it just needs to be pulled from the databases and onto a web site. Perhaps computer class could write the software as a project.

    The numbers have to total up and balance. Next step would be to show income from students and fees to be added to those departments.

    If the school districts can have been doing this for years and years in the paper, I see no reason why this wouldnt work on the web. I’ll bet the page hit counter would be higher than they think…

    • Rob

      Actually, there is a database of statewide spending on the OMB website, though it’s a little cumbersome to use.

      • JW-American

        I wasn’t aware of that, good to know, so the data is there, just cumbersome by design maybe?

        It would be interesting to be able to click on sub-totals and get previous years numbers in a graph I’ll bet most would look like they are climbing a steep hill

        • Rob

          Yeah, its nothing like that. The bill creating it was great legislation, but poorly executed by the state IT folks.

  • Dlao

    And I know a guy who does not get a state vehicle for work but gets reimbursed for mileage and has told me he will claim 120 miles for a 15 mile trip. Anybody ever audit those claims?

  • guest

    This is almost laughable, if it wasn’t so serious.
    Legislation such as this garbage above, no prosecutions at Dickinson State, etc are symptoms of the problems. It seems North Dakota is simply better at hiding corruption than other states.

  • awfulorv

    “Let them eat cake” is attributed to Marie Antoinette but I’ve thought, for years, it’s much more likely the phrase was coined by a French Professor. But it might as well have been a higher education Nabob, of any country. This is their, extremely haughty, viewpoint towards the rest of we peons. We ought to pass a law which prohibits leather patches on the elbows of their sweaters. That would really piss them off, and it would give 500,000 seamstresses a years employment removing them.