A government watchdog is calling for new legislation to remove political self-dealing from the grant application process after Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao apparently rewarded political supporters of her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Kentucky's largest transportation grant application under the Trump administration benefited from an unfair advantage that appeared to have political implications, and the Government Accountability Office called for changes to the award process -- and congressional Democrats have asked for an investigation, reported Politico.
“We quite frankly feel legislation is needed to compel DOT to address all the issues that we’ve raised that would really address the transparency, the accountability, the documentation,” said Susan Fleming, director of GAO's physical infrastructure team.
Boone County, a Republican-leaning suburban district in Northern Kentucky, got a $67.4 million transportation grant after department staffers gave county officials extra time to complete the application.
The department failed to show why Boone County and 41 other applicants got extra time, while another 55 incomplete applications were set aside.
Emails obtained by Politico also show that Boone County officials were in contact with Chao’s aide Todd Inman, a former McConnell campaign staffer who has served as a liaison between Kentucky officials the Transportation Department.
“It really invites skepticism, and it raises questions about the integrity of the process and ultimately the decisions that are made,” Fleming said. “Are these decisions driven by merit? Or are they driven by other factors?”
House Democrats have asked the Transportation Department's inspector general to investigate whether Chao and Inman had favored their home state, and Politico confirmed that review had been opened.