Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg avoided some phone calls and requests for public appearances while he was on paternity leave in 2021, according to internal documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
Documents obtained by the group Protect the Public’s Trust show Buttigieg declined a request for a call with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, in September 2021 to discuss an application for funds toward a bridge in his state.
“Unfortunately, the Secretary is currently on leave due to the birth of his twins, and that may lead to a delay in possibly scheduling in the future,” a staffer emailed Grassley’s office, according to documents obtained in the FOIA request.
Buttigieg similarly declined to participate in an hour-long Zoom call for an event with the Indiana Chamber of Commerce that invited him to speak.
“I think we can delegate? Can say he’s on leave,” one staffer emailed internally.
“Sounds good will do,” another staffer responded.
Buttigeig was also invited to travel to Illinois to visit the opening of a bridge, but again declined.
“The Secretary is currently out on paternity leave therefore he is unable to travel at this time,” the staffer replied in October 2021.
Buttigeig faced criticism over the timing of his roughly two-month leave from August to October 2021, which took place as the U.S. faced a historic supply chain shortage that threatened the economy. This leave also overlapped with negotiations in Congress for the infrastructure bill that eventually passed and was largely tasked to the DOT.
Buttigieg responded to this criticism in an October 2021 media appearance on CNN where he claimed he continued to be available “24/7” while on paternity leave.
“When you take a job like mine, you understand and accept that you will have to be available 24/7 depending on what’s going on,” Buttigieg said. “You will have to engage. I did, even if that meant taking a phone call or making a decision from a hospital room. I am so thankful for the phenomenal work my colleagues at the Department of Transportation have done and are doing.”
The paternity leave was the first of a series of controversies for Buttigieg. Southwest Airlines canceled roughly 13,000 flights in a few days over the holiday season as it dealt with winter weather and internal issues. The Federal Aviation Administration paused all flights for a few hours Wednesday morning as its Notice to Air Missions System, which sends necessary messages to all pilots, crashed.