House and Senate Democrats are calling on HHS' Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to examine HHS Secretary Tom Price's use of private jets for official business and the cost of those flights.
According to the Wall Street Journal, lawmakers called for the investigation following a Politico article, published Tuesday, that found Price on five occasions took private jets for official business, which charter flight operators estimated would cost at least $60,000 combined.
At the time the article was published, HHS officials declined to confirm details regarding the flights or why Price did not consider commercial travel, stating only that Price sometimes flew private when commercial options were not feasible.
In the letter sent Wednesday, the five Democratic lawmakers requested a review of Price's "adherence to federal regulations and [HHS] policies and procedures for travel." In particular, they asked OIG to examine:
- How many times Price used a charter or government aircraft;
- The cost of those trips; and
- Whether HHS personnel raised concerns about Price's use of the private aircrafts.
The letter was signed by:
- Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.);
- Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.);
- Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.);
- Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.); and
- Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
Separately, Murray said Price's use of the private planes shows "a clear willingness to skirt basic ethics rules" and invites a "greater conversation" about his conduct.
HHS on Wednesday defended Price's recent travels, citing the secretary's work to manage the department's response to three major hurricanes.
"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' missions," HHS Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs Charmaine Yoest said.
Yoest added, "The travel department continues to check every possible source for travel needs, including commercial, but commercial travel is not always feasible" (Abutaleb/Zargham, Reuters, 9/20; Radnofsky, Wall Street Journal, 9/20; Diamond/Pradhan, Politico, 9/19; Pradhan, Politico, 9/20).
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