Federal Audit & Newly-Obtained Records Show TVA is Abusing Use of Luxury Aircraft for Friends and Family

Guest Blog | March 29, 2018 | Press Releases

Report underscores concerns that CEO Bill Johnson is out of touch and raises questions of legality


Knoxville, Tenn. — One month after a consumer watchdog group voiced concerns over the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) exorbitant spending on luxury jets and helicopters, TVA’s Office of Inspector General’s released an audit that confirmed concerns raised about TVA’s spending and if the use of these luxury aircraft were justified. In the past few years, TVA spent almost $18 million on two high-end aircraft and is now moving forward with a proposal to increase rates on residential and small business customers.

The audit, limited to 2015-2017, only examined the cost and use of one of the two luxury jets currently registered to TVA as well as TVA’s Turbo King Air prop plane. Even this limited audit reveals several critical findings, notably that:

  • the purchase of the jet in question was not based on a justified need,
  • the purchase of the jet did not follow a competitive bid process, resulting in the purchase of unnecessarily expensive aircraft,
  • the purchase of the jet has not been cost effective, and
  • the jet has repeatedly been used for personal flights by TVA CEO Bill Johnson, and his wife, outside of the TVA territory no less than 18 times.

These findings raise further questions and concerns over the irresponsible and potentially illegal use of ratepayer funds on unnecessary expenses incurred by TVA’s fleet of luxury aircraft. The audit confirms wrongdoing by TVA and indicates that it may be even worse than the information revealed in this initial audit.

For example, records obtained by the Energy and Policy Institute from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), show that TVA jets flew to the Raleigh-Durham airport (RDU) no less than 18 times in this two year period. Raleigh, North Carolina, which is outside of TVA’s territory, is the location of a “second home” belonging to TVA CEO Bill Johnson and where Johnson’s wife, Sally Johnson, is a professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. TVA has failed to respond to SACE’s FOIA requests about the use of these aircraft for personal use or records of these flights, and continues to block access to this requested information.

“In a move that shows Bill Johnson, already the highest paid federal employee in the United States, to be completely out of touch with the customers he is appointed to serve, it appears as though he has been using these luxury jets as personal aircraft for him and his wife, raising not only questions of out-of-control spending, but also questions of the legality of his actions. It appears that TVA violated federal requirements related to use of the jets and record keeping of who was using the jets, for what purpose and for how long,” stated Dr. Stephen A. Smith, Executive Director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “This audit effectively debunks all of the excuses that TVA has been offering to try and explain what is really happening – an abuse of power symptomatic of larger mismanagement and legally troubling behavior coming out of TVA leadership. TVA needs to make all flight records transparent and available to the public so that we have full accountability to how they are using their aircraft at the ratepayers expense. It is scandalous that TVA refused to comply with our Freedom of Information Act request on jet usage when there’s now clear evidence that TVA has been misappropriating these federally owned aircraft at taxpayer expense.”

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records available upon request.