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.”