Price to reimburse taxpayers for part of cost of charter jets

Keren Carrion

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price vowed Thursday to reimburse taxpayers for his use of private charter jets for official government business.

“Today, I will write a personal check to the U.S. Treasury for the expenses of my travel on private charter planes,” Price said in a statement. “The taxpayers won’t pay a dime for my seat on those planes.”

Price noted that all the travel has been “approved by legal and HHS officials” but said he will stop using private charter flights.
“I regret the concerns this has raised regarding the use of taxpayer dollars,” Price said. “It is clear to me that in this case, I was not sensitive enough to my concern for the taxpayer.”

An HHS spokesperson told The Hill that Price will pay $51,887.31 for his seat on the flights, not the entire cost. 

“The Secretary has heard the taxpayers’ concerns and wants to be responsive to them. That’s why he’s taking the unprecedented step of reimbursing the government for his share of the travel,” the spokesperson said. “The taxpayers won’t pay a dime for his seats on charter planes.”

Price had a minimum net worth of about $8.2 million, including more than one bank account containing at least $100,000 in cash, at the time of his nomination to lead HHS in January, according to his personal financial disclosure forms.

The former Georgia congressman has been the subject of controversy since a report by Politico revealed last week that Price has flown a private jet at least 24 times since May, costing taxpayers an estimated $400,000. Some of those flights overlapped with personal events, including a lunch with his son.

The controversy seems to have put Price’s job at risk. The White House on Thursday refused to say whether Price would stay on.

“We’re going to conduct a full review and see what happens,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

Sanders said the White House instructed HHS to halt all private charter flights until the agency and inspector general complete their separate reviews of Price’s travel.

The White House is also conducting its own “overall” review of the administration’s travel policies, Sanders said.

“As the president said yesterday, he’s not happy with the actions,” Sanders said. “We’re looking at the issue.”

Trump earlier this week also refused to rule out firing Price. 

When asked if he had plans to oust the HHS chief, Trump said: “We’ll see.”

On Thursday, Vice President Pence said he would leave it up to Trump and Price to “work it out.”

Price’s flights are now the subject of an investigation by his department’s inspector general, but he isn’t the only Cabinet member to come under criticism for using either a charter or government-owned plane.

The Treasury Department inspector general is reviewing department head Steven Mnuchin’s use of a private jet in August, as well as why he requested a government plane to take him and his wife, Louise Linton, on their European honeymoon.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has also been using private planes for government duties. The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Pruitt’s private flights have cost taxpayers more than $58,000.

– Megan R. Wilson contributed.
Tags Scott Pruitt Steven Mnuchin Tom Price

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