Agency watch­dog slams ex-HHS chief Price on costly travel

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - NEWS - By Ricardo Alon­soZal­divar

WASH­ING­TON » The gov­ern­ment wasted at least $341,000 on travel by ousted Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Tom Price, in­clud­ing book­ing char­ter flights with­out con­sid­er­ing cheaper sched­uled air­lines, an agency watch­dog said Fri­day.

The HHS inspector gen­eral’s long-awaited report chas­tised the de­part­ment for flout­ing fed­eral travel rules, which re­quire of­fi­cials to book trips in the most cost-ef­fi­cient way for tax­pay­ers.

The inspector gen­eral es­ti­mated that the gov­ern­ment spent nearly $1.2 million on Price’s travel dur­ing his seven months in of­fice. That in­cluded more than $700,000 in mil­i­tary flights on two for­eign and two do­mes­tic trips, as well as more than $480,000 for var­i­ous do­mes­tic trips by pri­vate char­tered air­craft.

HHS “im­prop­erly used fed­eral funds re­lated to Sec. Price’s gov­ern­ment travel,” the report said. Of 21 trips re­viewed by the inspector gen­eral’s in­ves­ti­ga­tors, only one com­plied with all fed­eral travel re­quire­ments. The report said none of the char­ter flights com­plied.

Price, who built a rep­u­ta­tion as a bud­get hawk dur­ing ear­lier con­gres­sional ser­vice, has apol­o­gized and re­paid the gov­ern­ment nearly $60,000. The report said au­thor­i­ties should seek full re­cov­ery of the $341,000 deemed waste­ful spend­ing.

In a for­mal re­sponse to the report, HHS agreed with most of the inspector gen­eral’s rec­om­men­da­tions for tight­en­ing up of­fi­cial travel and re­quested de­tail on the $341,000 that in­ves­ti­ga­tors said the gov­ern­ment should re­coup.

Extravagant spend­ing on travel and of­fice re­mod­el­ing by top of­fi­cials be­came a run­ning story as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion took power in Wash­ing­ton on a pres­i­den­tial prom­ise to “drain the swamp.”

Price was forced out in the fall of 2017 af­ter his travel drew the ire of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who was also upset over the GOP fail­ure to re­peal “Oba­macare.”

A suc­cess­ful or­tho­pe­dic sur­geon be­fore win­ning a con­gres­sional seat from the At­lanta sub­urbs, Price rose to be­come one of the top GOP ex­perts on bud­get and health care is­sues. But as sec­re­tary of HHS, he never pro­duced a health care plan to “re­peal and re­place” the Af­ford­able Care Act.

Among other find­ings from the report:

— In­ves­ti­ga­tors ques­tioned Price’s as­ser­tion that his of­fi­cial sched­ule pre­vented him from fly­ing com­mer­cial. In one case a White House event cited as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion was can­celed, and Price’s of­fice chose to con­tinue with a char­ter flight at a cost of nearly $18,000.

— Even among char­ter flight op­tions, Price’s of­fice did not al­ways book the low­est-cost trip. In one case the dif­fer­ence be­tween quoted op­tions amounted to nearly $46,000.

— For six trips, Price ei­ther started or ended his travel in his home state of Ge­or­gia, his most fre­quent char­ter travel des­ti­na­tion out­side of his of­fi­cial duty sta­tion in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

— HHS paid more than $11,500 on com­mer­cial flights for a Price trip to China, Viet­nam and Ja­pan. But Price ul­ti­mately flew on mil­i­tary trans­port at a cost of more than $430,000 and HHS lost track of what it spent for the com­mer­cial air­line ticket un­til the inspector gen­eral’s in­ves­ti­ga­tors iden­ti­fied the ex­pense.

In a for­mal re­sponse to the report, HHS agreed with most of the inspector gen­eral’s rec­om­men­da­tions for tight­en­ing up of­fi­cial travel and re­quested de­tail on the $341,000 that in­ves­ti­ga­tors said the gov­ern­ment should re­coup.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.