UPDATE: An official probe has been launched after extensive coverage of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price's use of private jets for government travel.
House Democrats called for an investigation after Politico reported that the travel costs for Price had exceeded $300,000 since May.
While the investigation will be focusing on the travel expenses for Price, it could investigate further matters, HHS spokeswoman Tessa Williams said.
“The review focuses on whether the travel complied with Federal Travel Regulations, but may encompass other issues related to the travel,” Williams said. “We take this matter very seriously, and when questions arose about potentially inappropriate travel, we immediately began assessing the issue.”
Price, who in 2010 criticized then-Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for “flying over our country in a luxury jet” while serving as a Congressman, said his situation was different.
Still, Price is complying with the investigation and has graciously decided not to charter any further private jets while the investigation is underway.
“But we’ve heard the criticism. We’ve heard the concerns. We take that very seriously and have taken it to heart,” Price told Fox News.
“I don’t think there will be any charter trips until this review is complete,” he added. “I think that’s appropriate because of the concerns that we’ve heard.”
How noble. Price should show more concern for his use of government money to fund luxurious travel, especially considering his job title.
HHS administers more grant money than all other federal agencies combined. The mission of the department is to protect the health of all Americans and provide essential human services, especially to “those who are least able to help themselves.”
It’s worth mentioning that Price strongly supported the previous Affordable Care Act repeal bill that would have cost millions of Americans health coverage. How can this possibly be meant to serve those who are least able to help themselves?
It seems Price needs to reconsider his position, and perhaps this investigation will remind him that his job is to serve the people, not himself.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price reportedly flew in private jets for five separate business trips last week despite the availability of much more cheaper commercial flights.
According to internal HHS documents, the travel took place Sept. 13-15. Price visited a resort in Maine to join a question-and-answer session with a healthcare industry CEO and New Hampshire and Pennsylvania to visit community health centers.
When contacted by Politico, the department said Price charters a private jet when commercial flights aren’t feasible. However, the officials declined to comment on who paid for the travel expense and flight details.
“As part of the HHS mission to enhance and protect the health and well-being of the American people, Secretary Price travels on occasion outside Washington to meet face to face with the American people to hear their thoughts and concerns firsthand. When commercial aircraft cannot reasonably accommodate travel requirements, charter aircraft can be used for official travel,” said a HHS spokesperson.
The reason provided by the department to charter a private jet doesn’t seem to be good enough, as there were apparently commercial flights available on all the routes Price traveled.
The timing for these flights also matched with Price’s departure.
HHS also refused to comment on how many times Price has used private jets for traveling ever since he took office. However, some staffers, who requested anonymity, said the secretary has been charting jets for months.
On the contrary, former President Barrack Obama’s HHS secretaries, Sylvia Matthews Burwell and Kathleen Sebelius, took commercial flights for in-country business trips.
According to ethics experts, although it is legal for government officials to use private mode of transport, it burdens the taxpayers.
“I can understand why the secretary might have to use a charter flight to get to a hurricane-devastated region, but Philadelphia is not one of those regions this year. I find it hard to believe he couldn’t find a suitable commercial flight to Philadelphia,” said Walter Shaub, who was director of the United States Office of Government Ethics until July.
He further added, “This wasteful conduct reflects disdain for the ethical principle of treating public service as a public trust. Public office isn’t supposed to come with frivolous perks at taxpayer expense.”
Price is not the only member of the Trump cabinet who has been exploiting taxpayers’ money.
In July, EPA head Scot Pruitt came under fire as a report revealed he traveled to his home state Oklahoma 10 times in three months.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin also planned for taxpayers to fund his honeymoon to Europe. According to ABC News, he requested a government jet to shepherd him and his new wife, Louise Linton, overseas for their romantic holiday at the phenomenal cost of approximately $25,000 per hour.
Banner: Reuters, Joshua Roberts