The Department of Health and Human Services is a big agency ($1.2 trillion) and Secretary Tom Price is a busy guy. A spokesperson for the department told VICE News last week that use of a private jet was essential given the secretary’s 13-hour workdays and mandate to “move power out of Washington and return it to the American people.”
So far Price has used private jets at least 26 times on “official” business. Politico has been painstakingly documenting this, including these eight urgent trips:
A long lunch
The morning of June 6, Price hopped a Learjet 55 in D.C. that shuttled him to Nashville, where he’s got a condo and where his son lives. There, he spent about three hours on official business over the course of the day. His schedule has a nearly three-hour hole in it, during which, HHS officials confirmed to Politico, he had lunch with his son. A federal contract reviewed by Politico indicates that the June 6 trip cost the federal government $17,760. A commercial ticket, with a government discount, would have cost about $102-333 per person.
“Thought leaders” in Aspen
Price jetted from San Diego to the Aspen Ideas Festival, an elite, glitzy get-together of “thought leaders” on June 24, arriving about a day before his scheduled panel, which Politico reports cost over $7,000. In San Diego, he had just spoken to a medical conference about how important it is to get “value” for spending, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
A vacation home
On August 4, he chartered a jet from Raleigh, North Carolina, where he’d given a speech at a vaccine manufacturer, and flew to St. Simon Island, a resort-filled destination off the Georgia coast. He got to the island, where he owns property, two days before speaking at a medical conference, one that he’s been attending for years — that has nothing to do with his role at HHS. The trip cost $86,000, according to federal contracts reviewed by Politico.
That super-busy week
And then there are the five separate flights he took in the course of a single week in early September — to a resort in Maine where he chatted with healthcare industry CEOs, an addiction treatment center outside of Philadelphia, and a community health center in New Hampshire.
The taxpayers paid for each of these flights.
And these are just the tip of the iceberg. Politico reviewed 26 of Price’s corporate jet flights since May. The total bill is at least $300,000.
Charmaine Yoset, an assistant secretary for public affairs, recently gave VICE News a statement on Secretary Price’s jet-setting that seems worth repeating now:
Within an incredibly demanding schedule full of 13+ hour days, every effort is being made to maximize Secretary Price’s ability to travel outside Washington to meet with the American people and carry out HHS’s missions. Secretary Price is currently managing public health and human services recovery and preparation efforts for three major hurricanes.
Federal regulations state that officials are allowed to charter planes, but only if “no scheduled commercial airline service is reasonably available (i.e., able to meet your departure and/or arrival requirements within a 24-hour period, unless you demonstrate that extraordinary circumstances require a shorter period) to fulfill your agency’s travel requirement.”
And, maybe not a coincidence, the House Oversight Committee announced Wednesday morning that they’d be looking into senior Trump administration officials’ use of chartered jets.