The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services wasted at least $341,000 on travel by former secretary Tom Price, including thousands in “extravagant, careless, or needless” spending on trips to and from Georgia, an internal watchdog concluded Friday.
The department’s inspector general reviewed 21 trips taken by the ex-Georgia congressman during his seven-month tenure as health secretary last year. The officials that authorized the travel didn’t comply with federal cost-efficiency regulations for 20 of those trips, including all 12 of Price’s trips on private chartered flights, the IG said.
“Former Secretary Price’s use of chartered aircraft, (military aircraft), and commercial aircraft did not always comply with applicable Federal regulations and HHS policies and procedures,” the watchdog’s 58-page report stated. “As a result, the Office of the Secretary improperly used Federal funds related to former Secretary Price’s Government travel.”
The IG also dinged Price for three trips to Georgia last summer.
In August 2017, the department chartered a private plane so Price could visit health care facilities in Colorado and North Carolina. From there, Price tacked on a trip to Brunswick, where he spoke in a personal capacity to students at a Georgia Physicians Leadership Academy-sponsored event.
That extra leg of the trip cost taxpayers nearly $13,000, the IG said.
The report also outlines two other instances in which HHS staffers flew from Washington to Georgia at taxpayer expense to meet with Price for meetings or accompany him on chartered flights out of Atlanta.
“Because three of the chartered aircraft trips started and ended in Georgia, the Office of the Secretary paid an additional total cost of $4,926 that represented an extravagant, careless, or needless expenditure of Government funds and thus is waste,” the report concludes.
Taxpayer-funded trips are supposed to originate from a person’s “official duty station” – Washington, in Price’s case – to locations of official events.
Overall, the IG estimated that the government spent nearly $1.2 million on Price’s travel during his tenure at the department. More than half of that was on military flights on two foreign and two domestic trips. Upwards of $480,000 was spent on domestic trips by private chartered aircraft.
The IG did not interview Price.
Price spokesman Nicholas Peters said “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.”
Price resigned his post in September and apologized for his travel. He repaid taxpayers nearly $60,000, the watchdog report said.
The IG calls on the department to recoup the full $341,000 and review its travel policies.
HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan said Friday that the department has “instituted new travel review procedures applicable to all political appointees.”
“It must be noted, though, that the work of an audit is to review compliance with procedures, not make legal conclusions,” he said. “As a matter of law, none of the travel at issue was unauthorized.”
In the months since his ouster, Price has slowly made a return to public life .
He joined the advisory board of Jackson Healthcare, a Georgia-based health care staffing and technology services provider. He also made headline-grabbing comments about Obamacare’s individual mandate that he later said were taken out of context and sat for a podcast interview with ex-Barack Obama strategist David Axelrod in May.
A Roswell-based former orthopedic surgeon, Price was once seen as a potential gubernatorial candidate. He shifted his focus after President Donald Trump anointed him the point man on one of his administration’s top priorities: repealing and replacing Obamacare.
But Price struggled to build alliances in the administration. When the details of his charter flights flooded the public domain last fall, Price resigned within hours of Trump suggesting he had lost confidence in him.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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