OIG: HHS needs to recoup $341K for former HHS Secretary Tom Price's improper travel spending

Tom Price speaking
Improper expenses related to former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price's government-related travel wasted at least $341,000 in federal funds, according to a new government audit. (Mark Taylor/CC BY 2.0)

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price's improper government-related travel costs wasted at least $341,000 in federal funds, according to a new government audit. 

Released by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) on Friday, the audit (PDF) said only one of 21 trips costing a total of $1.2 million followed all applicable federal requirements. For example, in the 12 trips on chartered aircraft, officials did not complete a cost comparison to commercial airline service. The OIG recommended that HHS take actions to recoup the wasted funds, including the $333,014 used for chartered flights as well as other excess travel expenses. They also recommended that HHS improve processes and internal controls.

“It must be noted, though, that the work of an audit is to review compliance with procedures, not make legal conclusions. As a matter of law, none of the travel at issue was unauthorized," Hargan said in the statement. 

An HHS spokeswoman previously said the private flights were booked because of Price's demanding schedule. According to the OIG audit, the Office of the Secretary also generally used language in its documentation justifying the use of the chartered plans by saying  “government contract flights cannot be procured that enable sufficient protection of the Secretary." 

Price previously released a statement saying he would repay the cost of his seats on the flights, and the audit shows that Price repaid the government $59,390 for his use of charter aircraft, including $7,503 for his wife’s travel on his trip to Asia as well as Europe and Liberia.

RELATED: Tom Price says he will repay the U.S. Treasury for the cost of his seats on private flights

The trips taken by former HHS Secretary Tom Price flagged by the inspector general included: 

  • A $12,346 expense for an Aug. 1 trip from Raleigh to Brunswick on a chartered flight to attend an event in a personal capacity. 
     
  • A $14,955 expense for chartered jet costs for a Sept. 15 trip to Philadelphia which included an opioid roundtable, a press conference, a facility tour of an addiction treatment center and a town hall meeting. The auditors determined that the schedule could have been shifted to allow for alternative travel like commercial rail and that the trip wasted $10,001.
     
  • A $50,420 expense for chartered flights for a several-day trip starting June 24 which included 3.5 hours of official engagements in San Diego, California, and Aspen, Colorado. That included a 30-minute speech on June 24 to the California Association of Physicians Group conference and a June 25 meeting and speech at the Aspen Ideas Festival. On June 26, he spoke at an event at the Colonial Flag store near Salt Lake City, Utah. The auditor estimated that the trip resulted in a waste of $36,313 by not taking commercial flights.
  • A $121,500 expense for a chartered flight on Aug. 25 to Seattle which the auditor estimated wasted an estimated $106,860 in government money by not using commercial flights. HHS told the auditor there were concerns around the weather that could affect the plane and concerns on size and luggage storage because of plane configuration.

  • Six trips in which Price either started or ended his federal travel in his home state of Georgia even though his official duty station was D.C. It also pointed to an instance when an employee incurred rental vehicle costs to travel to Georgia to meet with Price rather than holding the meeting in D.C.