I haven’t had too many complaints with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price thus far during his tenure. Despite some media criticism, he’s taken a more realistic approach to the opioid addiction problem than some others and he’s mostly left the Obamacare repeal mess in the hands of Congress where it belongs. But the recent news about his government travel habits is disturbing at a minimum.
Price was brought in to do a specific job, but he was also part of an administration which had promised to cut back on expenses and shrink the government’s budget. Revelations that his preferred mode of travel was private charter jets on the taxpayer dime, assuming more economical modes of travel were available (as mandated by law), made his decisions unacceptable. Now, with an investigation into those expenses underway, he’s declared that his private jet-setting ways are done… at least for now. (Washington Post)
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said Saturday that he will no longer take taxpayer-funded trips on private jets until his department’s inspector general completes a review that was announced one day earlier.
“I think that’s appropriate because of the concerns that we’ve heard,” Price said during an appearance on Fox News.
Politico reported this week that Price took five charter flights between Sept. 13 and Sept. 15, even though cheaper flights were available on commercial airlines. In a follow-up, Politico reported that Price had taken at least two dozen such flights since early May, costing taxpayers about $300,000.
As a side note, it’s worth remembering that the media was probably digging into the travel habits of everyone else in the Trump administration at the same time. (And, may I suggest, with a bit more vigor than they did during the Obama administration.) This has led to some misfires at times, such as when The Hill decided to push out a story on Betsy DeVos across social media with a pointedly misleading headline.
— The Hill (@thehill) September 21, 2017
They were pointing to this story, which now has the far more accurate title of, “DeVos flies on her own private jet for work-related travel.” But the original cached version (which is still reflected in the URL) said, “DeVos flies on private jet for work-related travel.” If you were heading there to read about a story similar to that of Tim Price, however, it wound up being completely the opposite. (My emphasis)
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos uses her private jet to conduct government business across the country.
Education Department Press Secretary Liz Hill told The Associated Press on Thursday that DeVos travels completely on her own dime, accepting no government reimbursement for flights or other expenses.
“Secretary DeVos accepted her position to serve the public and is fully committed to being a faithful steward of taxpayer dollars,” Hill said.
Once the facts are revealed, the story is barely more newsworthy than, “Guy takes his own car to work rather than using government vehicle.” Sure, it’s nice to hear and we applaud them for pitching in, but it’s not exactly a “scandal” now, is it?
The Tom Price situation is different. The Secretary’s private income and wealth situation is his own business, not mine, but this remains disturbing. No, we’re not talking about sums of cash which would bust the budget, but it’s precisely that attitude of “a little bit here and there won’t hurt” which got us into this mess to begin with. It was never just a little bit “here or there.” It was a little bit by everyone and it added up to a lot.
If the investigation reveals that there was cheaper commercial travel available which would have met Price’s scheduling requirements for all those trips then he either wasn’t aware of the travel spending rules or he just didn’t care about them. Neither is acceptable for a person entrusted with that level of responsibility. And if that’s the case, he should offer to voluntarily reimburse the taxpayers for a portion of the cost of those flights to bring his bill down the level we would have expected to pay under the rules.
You can’t be part of the team that’s supposed to be draining the swamp if you’re perceived as racing the rest of the alligators to grab your share of the goodies.