Federal auditor calls for recouping $341K Tom Price spent on flights
Former HHS Secretary Tom Price took 20 trips that violated federal requirements, according to a federal auditor that urged the department in a Friday report to recover at least $341,000 in wasted spending.
Price, who was forced out last year following a POLITICO investigation into his extravagant use of private and military aircraft, has already voluntarily repaid the government around $60,000. It was not immediately clear how or if he might be forced to repay the rest. A department spokesman said HHS will seek guidance from the Justice Department “whether there is legal basis for recoupment.”
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A spokesman for Price declined to say if he would pay back the government.
The audit from the HHS inspector general, which came about 10 months after Price’s resignation, found he and his staff spent more than $1.2 million on travel during his tenure at HHS. The report identified roughly $480,000 in costs from chartered planes and another $700,000 in flights on military aircraft.
Many of Price’s flights were between major cities that offered inexpensive alternatives on commercial airlines, including Nashville, Philadelphia and San Diego. Price also used military aircraft for multi-national trips to Africa, Europe and Asia. His wife, a Georgia state legislator, joined him on some of the trips.
HHS told the inspector general in a June 28 letter that department leadership agreed with most of the report’s findings, but said it was reviewing whether to seek repayment of $341,000 the audit identified as wasteful spending. In an interview with POLITICO, the inspector general’s office declined to specify who should make the payment.
“It is a great question,” said Tesia Williams, a spokeswoman for the inspector general. “Who would they ask for the money? Would that be Price? Would that be Price and his wife? Or is it the department, they approved it? That would be something for [HHS] counsel to offer.”
Price, a Georgia Republican who served in the U.S. House of Representatives for more than a decade before President Donald Trump nominated him to helm HHS, led the agency for roughly seven months before the travel scandal forced him to resign last September. Before POLITICO’s investigation broke, HHS officials were planning meetings with charter jet companies to explore the possibility of a long-term contract for Price’s travel arrangements, according to an individual briefed on those conversations.
Price was the first to depart Trump’s Cabinet, which has undergone major churn amid investigations into officials’ ethical behavior in office. Scott Pruitt was forced out as EPA administrator last week, facing more than a dozen probes into his travel, spending and ties to lobbyists. David Shulkin, who was fired as Veterans Affairs secretary in March, was flagged for improper spending on overseas travel in a scathing inspector general’s report several weeks before his ouster.
The White House has since cracked down on use of private planes, telling Cabinet officials that chief of staff John Kelly must approve almost all travel on “government-owned, rented, leased, or chartered aircraft.”
HHS stressed that the department has beefed up its travel policies since Price’s departure.
“All HHS political appointees have undergone further training regarding government travel rules and procedures and are required to file a checklist before each trip with their supervisor or the Office of the General Counsel,” a department spokesperson said.