The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General is looking into Secretary Tom Price's use of private jets to travel to engagements, it confirmed Friday.
An OIG spokesperson said in a statement emailed to FierceHealthcare that "work is underway and will be completed as soon as possible."
"The review focuses on whether the travel complied with Federal Travel Regulations, but may encompass other issues related to the travel," the statement said. "We take this matter very seriously, and when questions arose about potentially inappropriate travel, we immediately began addressing the issue."
Price took chartered jets on five different occasions in the past week, in contrast to his predecessors who would typically fly commercial to engagements across the country. The flights in total cost as much as $60,000. Politico, who first reported the secretary's use of private flights, reported that Price had taken chartered flights at least 24 times since early May. The total costs, Politico estimated, could total more than $300,000.
Price took the chartered flights because of his busy scheduled, HHS' assistant secretary for public affairs, Charmaine Yoest, said in a statement.
“With an incredibly demanding schedule full of 13-plus-hour days, every effort is being made to maximize Secretary Price’s ability to travel outside of Washington to meet with the American people and carry out HHS' missions,” she said.
The controversy around Price's use of private jets comes as he says he wants to curb agency expenses and reorganize HHS to make it more effective and efficient.
Price has come under fire from ranking Democrats in Congress, who had called on OIG to look into the matter.
UPDATE, Sept. 25: Price defended his use of private planes Saturday in an interview with Fox News, where he said he would suspend his use of chartered aircraft as the OIG completes its probe.
“I don’t think there will be any charter trips until this review is complete," Price said. "I think that’s appropriate because of the concerns that we’ve heard.”
He said that he and his staff will cooperate fully with the investigation, and said traveling by private plane is not typical for him. He said that he's taken "many, many trips in cars, sometimes four or five hours at a time" since taking on the role of HHS Secretary.