Officials Island-Hop In Luxury At Steep Discount -- Transit-Aid Lobbyist Arranged Hawaii Tour

The administration's top mass-transit official and senior subordinates island-hopped in Hawaii recently, enjoying steeply discounted luxury accommodations on a tour arranged by a Washington lobbyist seeking $360 million in federal transit aid for Hawaii.

The official, Brian Clymer, head of the Urban Mass Transportation Administration, was accompanied by his director of communications and external affairs, Nancy Butler. Also in Clymer's party were Hiram Walker, a senior UMTA evaluator of Hawaii's grant proposal, and Walker's wife and son.

There is no public transportation on two of the three islands the UMTA delegation visited.

All three officials refused to be interviewed about the trip March 25-29 and referred questions to UMTA's public-affairs office.

Expense accounts obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show the UMTA officials spent a night at a plush Maui beach resort, another at a hotel on the island of Hawaii and two nights at Honolulu's Sheraton Waikiki, where the suite Clymer occupied usually goes for $525.

Thanks to lobbyist Denis Dwyer and cooperative Hawaiian politicians, no day's lodging costs on the Monday-through-Friday tour exceeded $97, the maximum daily reimbursement for federal officials in Hawaii on business.

Dwyer represents Hawaii's Transportation Department "in regard to mass transit," according to congressional lobbying records.

Bids are due May 15 on a proposed 17-mile elevated rail system in Honolulu. State and local officials propose to share 70 percent of its projected $1.2 billion cost. They are negotiating with Clymer's agency to pay the remaining 30 percent, UMTA spokesman Jerry Brown said.

The UMTA's ethics regulations state that "an employee shall not . . . solicit or accept any gift or other item of monetary value from any person or entity seeking official action from, doing business with, or conducting activities regulated by the employee's agency."

Dwyer, who picked up the visitors at the Maui airport and accompanied them all week, said his effort was "nothing more than trying to put your best foot forward."

Dwyer said Butler picked the team's destinations. Dwyer enlisted aides to Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii to make hotel reservations. Hotel personnel said Inouye aides or other civic leaders pushing the rail plan requested discounted rates.

The rate breaks were offered "by the hotels, in their sole discretion," Brown said, and UMTA officials were unaware of them. Moreover, "substantial official business" was done each day in Hawaii, he said.

Travel records indicate, however, that the UMTA team worked only one full day, on the island of Oahu. Otherwise, the UMTA entourage spent most of its time on the islands of Maui and Hawaii, travel records show.