HHS Secretary to pay back $52K of $1M in total travel costs

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HHS Secretary Tom Price, MD, has announced he’ll reimburse the federal government for using private charter flights after POLITICO investigations have found he racked up $1 million in publicly-funded travel costs. However, he’ll only pay back the cost of his seat on domestic charter flights, amounting to $52,000.

Price announced the reimbursement in a statement released on Sept. 28. While he noted the travel was legal and didn’t apologize for using charter flights, he said he would initiate a departmental review to determine if HHS needs to changes its travel policies.

“Despite this, I regret the concerns this has raised regarding the use of taxpayer dollars. All of my political career I’ve fought for the taxpayers,” Price said. “It is clear to me that in this case, I was not sensitive enough to my concern for the taxpayer. I know as well as anyone that the American people want to know that their hard-earned dollars are being spent wisely by government officials.”

Price’s statement also pledged he “will take no more private charter flights as Secretary of HHS. No exceptions.” The original investigation found he took more expensive private options when commercial travel was available, such as taking a $25,000 charter flight from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia when taking a commercial flight would’ve cost $725 per person.

His travel had been criticized by President Donald Trump, who told reporters on Sept. 27, “I’m not happy about it.” Five Democrats in the House of Representatives had written to Price demanding he resign, saying his use of private flights represented a “gross misuse of public funds.”

Other Democrats said paying back only for “his seat” on those flights was insufficient. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, who as ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, opposed Price’s nomination, tweeted that until Price paid back the full cost of the charter flights, he “is still ripping off taxpayers.”

Meanwhile, POLITICO has continued to find additional travel costs for Price. In trips approved by the White House, Price used military aircraft on trips to Africa, Asia and Europe, at a cost of more than $500,000. This would bring the total cost of his government-funded travel to $1 million since early May.