Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has taken taxpayer-funded private jet flights at least 24 times since May, Politico reported on Thursday:
The frequency of the trips underscores how private travel has become the norm — rather than the exception — for the Georgia Republican during his tenure atop the federal health agency, which began in February. The cost of the trips identified by POLITICO exceeds $300,000, according to a review of federal contracts and similar trip itineraries.
Price’s use of private jets represents a sharp departure from his two immediate predecessors, Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Kathleen Sebelius, who flew commercially in the continental United States. HHS officials have said Price uses private jets only when commercial travel is not feasible.
In an article earlier this week on Price’s flights, Politico reported that Price’s claim does not appear to be true: Affordable commercial alternatives were available, for instance, for a round trip to Philadelphia last week, which would have cost $725 at the most. Ultimately the flight cost around $25,000. Politico reported Thursday that alternatives were likely available for many of the other flights Price has taken since May, including a June 6 trip to Nashville, Tennessee. “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,” Politico’s Rachana Pradhan and Dan Diamond wrote. “Sample round-trip fares for those flights were as low as $202, when booked in advance on Orbitz.com. Price’s charter, according to HHS’ contract with Classic Air Charter, cost $17,760.”
HHS spokeswoman Charmaine Yoest told Politico that Price’s travel had been affected by the demands of responding to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. “Nonetheless, POLITICO identified at least 17 charter flights that took place before the first storm—Hurricane Harvey—hit in late August, and included flights that did not appear to be for urgent HHS public health priorities,” Pradhan and Diamond write. “For example, Price took a Learjet-60 from San Diego to the Aspen Ideas Festival—a glamorous conference at the Colorado resort town—that arrived at 3:33 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, June 24, nearly 19 hours before his scheduled panel. That flight likely cost more than $7,100, according to one charter jet agency estimate.”