Ex-Health Secretary Tom Price Wasted $341,000 on Improper Travel, Inquiry Finds

Tom Price resigned in September after racking up travel bills for chartered flights and undermining President Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” of a corrupt and entitled capital.

WASHINGTON — Tom Price, the former secretary of health and human services, repeatedly violated government travel rules and wasted at least $341,000 by billing taxpayers for his use of chartered jets and military aircraft, federal investigators said Friday.

The inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services, Daniel R. Levinson, documented the abuses in a blistering report on what he described as Mr. Price’s “lack of compliance with federal requirements.”

He said the government should try to recoup the money improperly spent on Mr. Price’s travels to such places as Florida, Colorado and Texas, as well as China, Germany, Japan, Liberia, Switzerland and Vietnam.

The inspector general examined 21 trips for which Mr. Price had used chartered aircraft, military aircraft, commercial aircraft or the fleet of planes equipped for use by the president and the vice president. He found that 20 of the 21 flights did not comply with federal requirements.

The total cost of the 21 trips was $1.2 million, the report said. The most expensive trips were an eight-day visit to Asia on military aircraft, which cost $432,400; a weeklong visit to Africa and Europe on military planes, which cost $234,400; and a charter flight from Seattle to Washington, D.C., which cost $121,500.

Mr. Price took chartered aircraft to many cities in the United States when lower-cost commercial flights were available, Mr. Levinson said. He found that Mr. Price had spent $14,955 on a round-trip charter flight between Washington and Philadelphia.

Mr. Price, an orthopedic surgeon from Georgia, resigned in September after losing the confidence of President Trump, who had promised to “drain the swamp” of a corrupt capital.

As a House member for 12 years, Mr. Price often railed against government waste, “reckless spending” and “the skyrocketing costs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.”

Mr. Price is one of many Trump administration officials who have come under fire for their spending practices. Others include David J. Shulkin, the former secretary of veterans affairs; Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development; and Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, who resigned last week.

The new report says that Mr. Price’s travels as health secretary “resulted in waste of federal funds totaling at least $341,000.” Waste was defined as “the extravagant, careless or needless expenditure of government funds.”

Mr. Price paid the government $59,390 for his use of chartered aircraft, but the inspector general said this did not come anywhere near the total cost of the improper travel.

A spokesman for Mr. Price issued a statement on Friday saying that the inspector general had not interviewed the former secretary. Problems cited in the report resulted from “good-faith mistakes” by federal employees who made travel arrangements for Mr. Price, the statement said.

But Heather Flick, the acting assistant secretary for administration at the department, acknowledged that “instances of unnecessary spending occurred.”

The inspector general said Mr. Price had violated federal travel rules on all 12 trips for which he used chartered aircraft from February through September last year. Before taking such trips, officials are supposed to compare the cost of charter flights with the cost of commercial travel, but Mr. Price did not do so, Mr. Levinson said.

“Chartered aircraft should not have been authorized for those trips,” during which officials gave speeches, held meetings and made routine site visits, the report said.

Mr. Price and his aides could have traveled to Seattle on commercial flights, at rates negotiated by the government, for $2,500, which is about 2 percent of what they spent on chartered aircraft, the inspector general said. And for a trip to Colorado, Illinois, North Carolina and Georgia, they could have flown on commercial flights for $6,600, but instead used chartered aircraft at a cost of $87,400, the report said.

For many of the trips, there was no evidence that Mr. Price and his team “considered the availability of commercial flights,” the report said. Aides to Mr. Price said he was sometimes concerned about his safety and security on commercial flights, but the inspector general said that members of his security detail could have been seated near him.

Even when using chartered aircraft, the report said, Mr. Price and his team did not always choose the least expensive options. They could have, for example, obtained a charter flight from Seattle to Washington, D.C., for $75,800, instead of the $121,500 that the government paid. Mr. Price’s wife, Betty, accompanied him on that flight, and he reimbursed the government for the cost of his seat, but not for hers, the report said.

The office of the health secretary said the less expensive charter planes were not selected because they were “not deemed to be an efficient safe option for the mission.”

For one international trip, Mr. Price and his aides “used military aircraft but also paid for one commercial flight for the same trip,” the report said. The government paid $11,584 for unused tickets on the commercial flight and obtained a refund only after investigators discovered the mix-up, the report said.

As an example of waste, Mr. Levinson pointed to $36,300 spent on a three-day trip to San Diego; Aspen, Colo.; and Salt Lake City that included “only 3.5 hours of official engagements.” He said the government should try to recoup the funds, as well as $12,300 spent on a charter flight that took Mr. Price from Raleigh, N.C., to Brunswick, Ga., so he could “attend an event in a personal capacity.”

Trump administration officials said they had taken steps to improve compliance with federal travel rules.

Before taking trips, political appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services must fill out a questionnaire to be reviewed by ethics officers. Travelers must provide a “detailed justification” for the use of military or chartered aircraft and must explain how the trip will advance the government’s mission.

On the day of Mr. Price’s resignation, Mr. Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, sent a memorandum to the heads of federal agencies stating that “with few exceptions, the commercial air system used by millions of Americans every day is appropriate, even for very senior officials.”

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