Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price announced on Thursday that he will no longer use private jets to carry out government-related business. The news comes on the heels of reports by Politico which claimed Price had taken dozens of charter flights on the government’s dime, some to visit family and friends, reportedly at a cost of at least $400,000. Another Politico report later estimated that the total could be as high as $1 million or more, after a review showed the White House had also approved some $500,000 in military jet travel to Africa, Europe, and Asia for the secretary. The secretary stated that he will refund taxpayers for a small fraction of what the flights cost.
“I continue to welcome and am cooperating fully with the Office of Inspector General (OIG) review of processes and procedures related to my official travel as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS),” Price wrote in a statement. “I have also taken the additional step of initiating a departmental review to determine if any changes or reforms are necessary. As I have previously stated, all of this travel was approved by legal and HHS officials.”
He added, “Despite this, I regret the concerns this has raised regarding the use of taxpayer dollars. All of my political career I’ve fought for the taxpayers. It is clear to me that in this case, I was not sensitive enough to my concern for the taxpayer. I know as well as anyone that the American people want to know that their hard-earned dollars are being spent wisely by government officials.”
Price laid out a series of steps meant to assure taxpayers that his department was intent on rectifying the situation.
“To make sure everyone knows that I understand and appreciate this,” he wrote, “and to make sure everyone knows that this will never happen again, I am taking the following steps:
- My staff and I will continue to cooperate fully with the OIG and internal review.
- I will take no more private charter flights as Secretary of HHS. No exceptions.”
- Today, I will write a personal check to the US Treasury for the expenses of my travel on private charter planes. The taxpayers won’t pay a dime for my seat on those planes.”
According to a senior HHS source who spoke with Fox News, Price will repay $51,887.31 for his use of the private planes. The total cost of the flights was initially estimated at over $400,000, but the aforementioned Politico report on Thursday night showed that the secretary had also taken White House-approved military flights for travel to Africa, Asia, and Europe, bringing that total to as high as $1 million since May. The outlet reported that Price’s wife Betty had accompanied him on the military jets, while “other members of the secretary’s delegation flew commercially to Europe.”
As Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego (D) noted, Price’s partial payment leaves taxpayers to foot the remaining bill.
In his statement on Thursday, Price insisted that he would continue to prioritize the American people over himself as he claimed he had in the past. “I have spent forty years both as a doctor and in public service putting people first,” he said. “It has been my personal honor to serve the American people, and I look forward to continuing that service.”
The EPA inspector general is also currently looking into Administrator Scott Pruitt’s travels; Pruitt reportedly racked up a bill of $20,000 on private charter flights in early June.
This article has been updated to include new information regarding Secretary Price’s military jet travel expenses.