For somebody who purports to be a budget hawk, Georgia’s Tom Price, now U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services, has been availing himself of some gilt-edged travel accommodations lately.
It was the practice, and indeed the policy, of Price’s predecessors to travel commercially within the contiguous United States, according to a Tuesday report by Politico. “The basic rules that our scheduling team worked under were, you flew commercial and you flew economy,” former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told the magazine. “That’s just what they did.”
Price, the magazine reported, took five separate private jet flights over three days on department-related trips that cost many times what commercial carriers would have charged.
Politico cited figures from several airlines showing sample round-trip fares for one trip Price took — from Washington to Philadelphia — in the $450-$725 range; “By contrast, the cost of chartering the plane was roughly $25,000, according to Ultimate Jet Charters, which owns the Embraer 135LR twin jet that ferried Price and about 10 other people …”
There might be valid reasons why the secretary needed private travel arrangements on these five flights; if so, nobody in the government is saying what those reasons are. According to an HHS spokesperson, “When commercial aircraft cannot reasonably accommodate travel requirements, charter aircraft can be used for official travel.” Why Price could not be “reasonably” accommodated is apparently anybody’s guess. The department also would not disclose who paid for the flights, although the organizations sponsoring the events Price attended all told Politico they did not pay for any of Price’s travel costs.
That kind of narrows it down, doesn’t it?
HHS would not say how many private flights Price has taken in office, but said his trips are all “in complete accordance with Federal Travel Regulations.” Indeed, it’s extremely unlikely there was any legal or policy violation; the aforementioned Federal Travel Regulations do, however, include the specific guideline that “taxpayers should pay no more than necessary for your transportation.”
Price, as Politico and the Atlanta Business Chronicle both noted this week, has backed major spending cuts. Among them are hundreds of billions from health entitlement programs and a proposed cut of almost $6 billion from the National Institutes of Health.
Against massive numbers like those, five private flights, at a cost charter operators estimate at more than $60,000, can’t be all that big a deal, right?
Safe rides home
Speaking of transportation …
Two commercial sponsors are stepping up for public safety with the “Give a Damn. Don’t Drive Drunk” program offered by Lyft and Budweiser. The St. Louis-based brewing giant will post a weekly Internet ride code that adults can use to claim a credit for a ride to and from a bar, restaurant or other establishment where alcohol is served, on weekends and holidays for the rest of this year.
If you’re driving, don’t drink. If you’re drinking, don’t drive. With a program like this, there’s even less excuse to.