Federal Taxpayers Sent Two Tennessee Officials to China

Federal taxpayers paid to send two Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation officials to China recently.

The two employees who made the trip were TDEC’s Deputy of Engineering Services George Garden and Assistant Commissioner Dr. Kendra Abkowitz, said TDEC spokesman Eric Ward.

Ward did not say when, exactly, they went.

The pair went to China for a symposium on “food, water, and energy systems” to benefit Tennessee, Ward said.

“They did so at no expense to TDEC – all meals, airfare and lodging were paid for by the National Science Foundation in the US and China,” Ward told The Tennessee Star in an email.

The National Science Foundation is a federal agency with an annual budget of $7.8 billion, according to its website.

The agency “is the major source of federal backing” for 27 percent of the total federal budget for research at U.S. colleges and universities, the website said.

Ward directed questions about the two TDEC employees’ travel costs to the NSF.

But, in an emailed statement, NSF spokeswoman Sarah Bates referred those questions back to TDEC.

Bates did, however, provide a link showing this trip was one part of a $300,0000 grant to the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture.

“Conversations between leading international scientific and engineering researchers on how food, energy and water interact is critical for the U.S. economy, security and leadership,” Bates said in an emailed statement.

Bates later told The Star about how these efforts will create new technologies that convert wastes into fertilizers that reduce energy costs.

This is not the first time a TDEC official has taken a trip out of Nashville on the taxpayer’s dime.

As FOX News 17 out of Nashville reported four years ago, then TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau traveled aboard a six-seater C-90 King Air from Nashville to Athens, TN for a brief speech. By car, that is less than a three-hour drive. But the flight cost taxpayers $1,517.

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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]

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5 Thoughts to “Federal Taxpayers Sent Two Tennessee Officials to China”


    We have federal money for these two overpaid TDEC Executives to go to China, but we can’t take care of our Veterans. When did the State of Tennessee start give out free paid vacations. Bill Haslam owes the Veterans an apology and should fire these wasteful executives and those who approved it. Take their salaries savings and refund the Federal Government.

  2. Kevin

    And why exactly would TN WANT to send ANYBODY to China, regardless of “who” pays for it? If those two people can go to China for for a week, they can stay home for 52 weeks, PERMANENTLY! We don’t need them!

    1. BD

      I agree with Kevin, there are a bunch of executive service people know as cronies in TDEC. Water Resources has several include the director and 4+ fellows with no direct reports at all to them costing the taxpayers over a half a million in salary.


    This is nothing but a freaking Boondoggle! The US is in a Trade War with China, plus why we waste tax money sending a retired engineer rehired by TDEC name George Garden (Salary $8820 per month) and Assistant Commissioner Dr. Kendra Abkowitz (Salary $9857 per month). Salaries can be found at Transparent Tennessee https://apps.tn.gov/salary/ . Someone paid for their Salaries and trip planning.
    What is TDEC spokesman Eric Ward fails to tell you is that Dr. Kendra Abkowitz’s father Dr. Mark Abkowitz was the currently TDEC Commissioner Dr Shari L. Meghreblian dissertation advisor on her PhD from Vanderbilt. In Meghreblian’s Dissertation Acknowledgement it states, “Words really cannot express the gratitude I have for my advisor, Dr. Mark Abkowitz . . .” This sounds like “quid pro quo”.
    But this is not the first time a Martineau or Meghreblian crony has went to China, the last trip was in during the time frame of March 16, 2016 (UA Flight #4506) through March 23, 2016 (UA Flight #6285). Then Water Resources Director Tisha Calabrese Benton went to China to attend a workshop on Environmental Remediation and Watershed Restoration in Changchun, China. Since Ms. Benton holds a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri – Columbia. I wonder which TDEC underling prepared her presentation.
    Of course, I sure she visited the Great Wall of China, which for a reference is over a day’s trip away from the conference.
    Governor-Elect Bill Lee needs to clean House At TDEC.

  4. Robert Baggett

    A man and woman go to China on our dime. Sounds a lot like a mayor Berry joke doesn’t it