HHS watchdog: Price's travel wasted taxpayers' $341,000

HHS watchdog: Price's travel wasted taxpayers' $341,000

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.

Price spokesman Nicholas Peters said in a statement, “there is no indication in the (inspector general’s) report that the paperwork and regulatory issues of department staff were anything other than good faith mistakes.”

The inspector general’s report raised questions about how Price’s travel was authorized. For example, investigators found that on five of 12 charter flights, legal approval came only during or after the trip.

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.” The latest Cabinet casualty was Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, who resigned this month amid ethics investigations.

Price was forced out in the fall of 2017 after his travel drew the ire of President Donald Trump.