Tom Price, President Trump's health and human services secretary, has taken at least 24 flights on private charter jets since May, Politico reported Thursday night, including a chartered flight to Oklahoma on Tuesday, after Politico found that Price had taken five chartered flights in just three days last week, including one to Philadelphia from Washington. The cost of the private flights Price is known to have chartered exceeds $300,000, Politico reports, and HHS spokeswoman Charmaine Yoest said Price's work trips are paid for "from the HHS budget," or taxpayer funds.
Yoest said Price has "taken commercial flights" for work since his confirmation, as was the rule under his predecessors, but that he uses "charter aircraft for official business in order to accommodate his demanding schedule," using as an example when Price, the HHS secretary, "was directing the recovery effort for Irma" and Hurricane Harvey. Politico said it "identified at least 17 charter flights that took place before the first storm — Hurricane Harvey — hit in late August," including to pre-arranged conferences and, in one case, a $7,100 chartered Learjet-60 from San Diego to Aspen, arriving 19 hours before his speech in the Colorado resort town.
"No one is quite sure what [Price] is doing," a senior White House official told Politico, noting that Price's frequent travels have little to do with Trump's priorities. As Brian Williams noted on MSNBC Thursday night, Price styles himself as a budget-cutter, both while in Congress and at HHS, and he's not the only Trump Cabinet member under scrutiny for questionable expenditures. You can watch below, and read the entire report at Politico. Peter Weber
— 11th Hour (@11thHour) September 22, 2017
From Sept. 13 to Sept. 15, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price flew a charter jet on five separate flights to Maine, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania for HHS business, and current and former HHS staffers say he's been flying on private jets for months, Politico reports. Price's travel in those three days cost somebody at least $60,000, charter jet companies said, and HHS spokespeople declined to address who footed the bills. The last two HHS secretaries, Sylvia Matthews Burwell and Kathleen Sebelius, flew only commercial inside the continental United States, and often coach. "Price, a frequent critic of federal spending who has been developing a plan for department-wide cost savings, declined to comment," Politico notes, a bit archly.
All three organizations Price traveled to address — IT firm athenahealth and Goodwin Community Health Center in New Hampshire and Mirmont Treatment Center outside Philadelphia — said they did not pay for Price's travel. "Secretary Price travels on occasion outside Washington to meet face to face with the American people to hear their thoughts and concerns firsthand," an HHS spokesperson told Politico. "When commercial aircraft cannot reasonably accommodate travel requirements, charter aircraft can be used for official travel."
Politico did some digging, and found commercial flights from D.C. to the places Price traveled at around the time he flew, for much less money. The Wall Street Journal's Tim Hanrahan rounded up some options for the Washington-Philadelphia leg, a 135-mile trip that cost $25,000 on Price's chartered plane.
DC to Philadelphia*:
Car: $50 gas/tolls
Acela train: $240
United plane: $450
Private jet: See below
*Approximate, round trips https://t.co/V5FqL7pKm0
— Tim Hanrahan (@TimJHanrahan) September 20, 2017
Price, a millionaire former orthopedic surgeon and congressman from Georgia, didn't always think private-jet travel was in the best interest of taxpayers, as he showed in this CNBC interview of himself he posted in 2009. (Also, he apparently used to think Congress should read bills before voting on them.)
President Trump's Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke are under investigation by their respective departments' inspector generals for their frequent travel or use of government planes. You can read more about Price's travel at Politico. Peter Weber