Watchdog report: former HHS Secretary Tom Price's travel wasted $341,000 of federal funds

Written by on July 13, 2018

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price improperly used federal funds for government travel, costing taxpayers at least $341,000, according to a report released Friday morning by the HHS inspector general.

The watchdog report found that 20 of Price’s 21 official trips on private planes while in office did not adhere to federal and agency guidelines.

“Our rigorous review of former HHS Secretary Price’s use of chartered, military, and commercial aircraft found that 20 out of 21 trips did not comply with applicable Federal regulations and HHS policies and procedures, resulting in waste of at least $341,000 in Federal funds,” the IG’s office spokeswoman Tesia Williams said in a statement. “We recommend the Office of the Secretary review the lack of compliance with Federal requirements and determine appropriate actions to recoup the travel costs.”

Of the 21 trips reviewed, the 58-page report highlights how only one met government standards.

The other 20, including all 12 in which Price traveled on chartered aircraft, failed to meet requirements for how government officials book travel. The inquiry found that Price’s office failed to compare the costs of chartered planes with low-priced, commercial flights even when traveling between cities as close as Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.

According to the report, the HHS secretary’s office did not book the cheapest option among available charter flights. In one instance the office spent almost $46,000 more than a lower quoted price.

Price’s travel on commercial planes, chartered and military aircraft, and the Presidential fleet totaled about $1.2 million. Price repaid approximately $60,000 for his travel expenses in 2017 but it is still unclear as to how the remaining costs will be recovered.

The HHS IG’s office began its review of Price’s travel while he was still Secretary. During his time in office, Price faced backlash for his repeated use of expensive private planes.

On September 27, 2017, President Trump told reporters that “he didn’t like the optics” of the travel scandal surrounding Price at the time, who he referred to as a “fine man.”

Later that day, Price ended his seventh-month tenure with a resignation letter, stating that he regretted “that the recent events have created a distraction” from the Trump administration’s achievements and goals.

Price was the first cabinet secretary to leave President Trump’s cabinet, which has since lost other members due to ethical reasons.

Just last week, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt resigned after numerous reports questioning whether he abused his office or misspent agency funds, including the purchase of a $43,000 soundproof phone booth for his office. Pruitt faced months of controversy and several federal investigations for his conduct.

Before being appointed HHS Secretary by President Trump, Price represented the suburbs of Atlanta as a Georgia congressman for over 10 years. He made his mark in the House by calling for fiscal discipline and responsible government spending.

HHS did not immediately respond to ABC News request for comment.

In its response to the report’s recommendations the agency agreed that there was unnecessary spending related to Price’s travel and that it has put new procedures and training in place so excess spending does not happen again. HHS also said that “significant” changes have taken place in how the agency handles travel, including a requirement by the Office of Management and Budget that all noncommercial travel be approved by the White House.

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