HHS Secretary Tom Price under fire for private jet travel

HHS Secretary Tom Price's use of private jets for official travel is a departure from Obama-era practices.
By Billy Kirk | Sep 25, 2017
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is defending himself against critics who say he is costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars by using private jets instead of commercial flights for official business.

Price, who has been a frequent critic of federal spending, took private jets on five separate occasions between Sept. 13 and Sept. 15, according to a report by Politico. The flights took him to a Maine resort for a Q&A talk with a healthcare industry CEO and to community health centers in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

Price's use of private jets represents a departure from practices of Obama-era secretaries Mathews Burwell and Kathleen Sibelius, who flew commercially when on official business in the continental United States.

A spokesperson for HHS declined to answer questions about Price's private jet travel, saying only that he occasionally charters aircraft when a commercial flight is not feasible.

"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," the spokesperson said, in the Politico report. "When commercial aircraft cannot reasonably accommodate travel requirements, charter aircraft can be used for official travel."

According to Politico, a commercial flight was available for at least one leg of Price's trip from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia and would have cost taxpayers between $447 and $725 per person. By comparison, the cost of chartering a jet was about $25,000.

Walter Schaub, the former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics who left the administration in July, said he could understand using a private jet to get to a natural disaster, but found it difficult to believe Price could not find a commercial flight to Philadelphia.

"This wasteful conduct reflects disdain for the ethical principle of treating public service as a public trust," Schaub said. "Public office isn't supposed to come with frivolous perks at taxpayer expense."

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