News & Opinion | September 22, 2017 11:02 am

HHS Secretary Tom Price Has Used Tax Dollars to Fly Private At Least 24 Times

Despite preaching "fiscal efficiency," Price spent more than $300,000 on charter flights since May.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price testifies during a Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill on March 29, 2017 in Washington, D.C. The hearing discussed the budget for the Department of Health and Human Services.(Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price testifies during a Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill on March 29, 2017 in Washington, D.C. The hearing discussed the budget for the Department of Health and Human Services.(Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Aides to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price are scrambling to justify the cabinet official’s unprecedented use of private flights for official business, after Politico reported that he’s spent more than $300,000 in public money on transportation since May.

“The Secretary has taken commercial flights for official business after his confirmation,” HHS spokesperson Charmaine Yoest said in a statement to Politico. “He has used charter aircraft for official business in order to accommodate his demanding schedule. The week of September 13 was one of those times, as the Secretary was directing the recovery effort for Irma, which had just devastated Florida, while simultaneously directing the ongoing recovery for Hurricane Harvey . . . Some believe the HHS Secretary should be Washington-focused. Dr. Price is focused on hearing from Americans across the country.”

But this explanation belies the facts. Previous HHS Secretaries have not only flown commercially, but in coach class. And Politico found that Price boarded nearly 20 private flights before Hurricane Harvey ever hit—including one from San Diego to the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado, which would hardly qualify as an urgent public health matter.

In addition, many of Price’s charter-aircraft trips were between large cities with frequent, low-cost airline traffic. As an example, Politico highlighted a June 6 trip form from Washington to Nashville for a morning event at a medication distributor and an afternoon speech. “There are four regular nonstop flights that leave Washington-area airports between 6:59 a.m. and 8:50 a.m. and arrive in Nashville by 9:46 a.m. CT. Sample round-trip fares for those flights were as low as $202 per person, when booked in advance on Orbitz.com. Price’s charter, according to HHS’ contract with Classic Air Charter, cost $17,760.”

Price’s profligate air travel also comes at a time when he is preaching “fiscal efficiency” for his department and planning numerous cutbacks and possible layoffs of HHS personnel.