Embattled Trump administration health affairs chief Tom Price will repay the federal government nearly $52,000 for his “seat” on more than two dozen pricey private jet trips — which cost taxpayers more than $400,000 — and promised to refrain from using charter flights in the future.
“Today, I will write a personal check to the US Treasury for the expenses of my travel on private charter planes,” wrote Price, the secretary of Health and Human Services Department, in a statement released Thursday.
“The taxpayers won’t pay a dime for my seat on those planes,” said Price.
Price did not say how much he would be paying back.
But an HHS spokeswoman said Price’s check would total $51,887.31.
That is a small fraction of the more than $400,000 it reportedly cost the government to charter 26 flights on private jets for Price and his traveling companions since May.
“I will take no more private charter flights as Secretary of HHS. No exceptions,” Price said in his email release.
Politico, which broke the stories about Price’s penchant for private plans, has reported that HHS claimed private jets were used to accommodate his busy schedule.
The White House referred questions about Price’s travel reimbursement to HHS.
Price’s announcement came a day after President Donald Trump said he was displeasedwith his health chief’s expensive habit of using private planes instead of commercial flights, as is traditional for cabinet secretaries.
Trump ominously said, “We’ll see,” when asked if he would fire Price, a medical doctor and ex-congressman who long railed against excessive spending by the federal government.
“I’m looking at that very closely. I am not happy with him,” Trump said.
Price earlier Thursday said told reporters, “I think we’ve still got the confidence of the president.”
In a letter sent to Trump on Thursday, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, noted that “federal regulations specifically prohibit official travel by chartered jet when it is not the most cost-effective mode of travel ‘because the taxpayer should pay no more than necessary for your transportation.”
Grassley asked Trump to urge his cabinet secretaries to use “reasonable and cost-effective modes of travel.” The senator noted that in addition to Price “there are questions about the travel expenses of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin” that are now under investigation by the inspectors general of both men’s departments.
Grassley asked the president to inform him of “steps the administration has taken to ensure that cabinet secretaries use the most fiscally responsible travel in accordance with the public trust they hold.”
BuzzFeed News reported Thursday that Price in the first two months of this year asked a White House official to tell Trump that he wanted to re-open HHS’s executive dining room, which had been closed since George W. Bush was president.
In his statement Thursday, Price wrote that he welcomes and is “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.
“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,” Price said.
“Despite this, I regret the concerns this has raised regarding the use of taxpayer dollars,” Price said.
“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 also said that, “I have spent forty years both as a doctor and in public service putting people first.”
“It has been my personal honor to serve the American people, and I look forward to continuing that service.”
Price on Thursday morning attended a press conference in Washington, DC, to promote flu vaccinations. He left that event without taking questions from reporters inside the National Press Club for the conference.
Additional reporting by Christina Wilkie