The Department of Interior Inspector General’s office has taken over a review into cheap vacations taken by senior government officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, at a secluded National Park Service lodge in Wyoming.
First revealed in a TIME investigation in October, Biden and his family stayed at the Brinkerhoff Lodge this summer for four nights, and reimbursed the government for the stay after press inquires. The visit appeared to violate longstanding Park Service policy against “VIP” vacations at national parks. Stays by Cabinet officials such as former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are also part of the review, and both requested updated invoices for their trips after TIME inquiries.
The four-bedroom Brinkerhoff Lodge is a log cabin overlooking the snowcapped peaks of Mount Moran in Grand Teton National Park along the shores of Jackson Lake. Under a 1992 rule, the lodge is maintained for use by federal employees for “training and official conferences” and for those on “temporary duty in the park.” But the park superintendent has discretion over whether to demand payment for the lodge, and could interpret those rules to allow extended family vacations if there is an element of official business involved.
In Biden’s case, his office maintained the trip was personal in nature, while the park maintained there was an official element because he was given a briefing and tour of the national park. He reimbursed the federal government only $1,200 for his family’s stay, consistent with the government per-diem rate, but well below the market rate for equivalent properties in the area. Aides said Biden had always intended to reimburse the government, but that the park never billed him for his stay.
After inquiries from TIME, the Department of Interior ordered the Park Service to conduct a review of the policies at the park. But in November, the House Committee on Natural Resources, which has oversight of the department, raised concerns about the internal review.
“It is a clear conflict of interest for the Director of the Park Service to be charged with conducting the Department’s investigation into misuse of the Brinkerhoff Lodge when he and his family members were reportedly among the VIPs allowed to use the lodge,” Chairman Doc Hastings and Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulations Chairman Rob Bishop wrote. “The Director of the Park Service lacks the independence, experience, and tools required to conduct a thorough investigation into this matter.”
After the letter, the review was handed over to the department’s inspector general.
“The Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General has initiated a performance evaluation of the Brinkerhoff reservations policy and billing practices, which is ongoing,” National Parks Service spokeswoman April Slayton told TIME. “The National Park Service has provided information to the OIG and continues to work with them on this issue.”
The review is expected to be completed in the coming weeks.