House and Senate Democrats on Wednesday formally requested that the HHS inspector general investigate HHS Secretary Tom Price’s use of private planes for government business.
Five Democrats asked the inspector general to review Price’s adherence to federal regulations on traveling by government employees, following a POLITICO investigation that found Price used charter planes to conduct official business within the United States. The request — sent by Reps. Frank Pallone and Richard Neal and Sens. Patty Murray, Ron Wyden and Gary Peters — asks the office to probe how many times Price used government or charter aircraft, the costs of the trips and whether HHS personnel raised internal concerns about Price’s use of private planes.
“American taxpayers deserve assurances that their tax dollars are not wasted by the government’s highest officials, and we are committed to holding Secretary Price to his stated pledges to reduce waste throughout the department,” they wrote.
Price last week took private jets on five separate flights for official business, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars more than commercial travel. The destinations included Maine, New Hampshire and the Philadelphia area in Pennsylvania. It was a sharp departure from his predecessors, who flew commercial.
HHS on Wednesday defended Price’s travel, with the department’s top spokesperson saying “commercial travel is not always feasible.”
“Within an incredibly demanding schedule full of 13-plus 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,” said Charmaine Yoest, HHS’ assistant secretary for public affairs.
Yoest later confirmed to POLITICO that if Price travels “for official business, that comes from the HHS budget.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate HELP Committee, said Price’s use of charter planes shows “a clear willingness to skirt basic ethics rules” and invites a “greater conversation” about his conduct in public office. During Price’s confirmation process to be HHS secretary, Democratic lawmakers and ethics experts scrutinized his investments in health care companies that could have benefited from legislation he supported.
The former Republican congressman from Georgia frequently called for fiscal responsibility, and as HHS Secretary has backed massive spending cuts to the health agencies he oversees.
“There could not be a clearer statement of the Trump administration’s priorities,” Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) said in a statement.
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