No matter your political bent, Trump cabinet members Betsy DeVos and Willard Ross have been mindful of taxpayer dollars when traveling.
Education Secretary DeVos, who married into the Amway fortune and is worth a reported $1.5 billion, uses her personal jet to fly on government business. (It does cost U.S. Marshals about $1 million per month to protect her from protesters angry about her views on public education, but that’s another matter.)
Commerce Secretary Willard Ross, an investor worth an estimated $687 million, uses his personal jet for government travels, but when traveling on commercials flight foots the difference between coach and first- or business-class.
Then there’s poor Tom Price, the secretary of Health and Human Services, an orthopedic surgeon in his previous life worth only $22 million. Price made a name for himself as a Republican congressman from Georgia fighting government’s “reckless spending,” once railing against the government’s purchase of small planes, which he called “just another example of fiscal irresponsibility run amok in Congress right now.”
But, according to a Politico investigation, he has had a penchant for flying private jets in lieu of commercial and billing the taxpayers. Price chartered flights in 26 instances at an estimated cost to taxpayers exceeding $400,000.
Whether it is illegal is something the HHS inspector general is investigating. Federal travel regulations state officials can only charter a plane if “no commercial airline service is reasonably (i.e., able to meet your departure and/or arrival requirements within a 24-hour period, unless you demonstrate that extraordinary circumstances require a shorter period) to fulfill your agency’s travel requirement.”
Price finally got the message — sort of — after President Donald Trump said he was “not happy” about the flights, adding “and I let him know.”
Now Price plans to write a check for $51,887.31, a fraction of the cost Politico cited, and will forgo private flights.
Among Politico’s findings on his travels:
Price chartered a private jet for $25,000 for a trip from Washington to Philadelphia, although commercial flights were available for less than $1,000 at the same time. Amtrak would have gotten him there in 90 minutes for much less.
Price chartered a private Learjet in June for $17,760 to go to Nashville, where he owns a condo and where his son lives, to meet with longtime colleagues, tour a medical dispensary and give a 20-minute speech to a medical conference organized by a friend (without taking questions). His 5.5-hour stay included lunch with his son. American and Southwest had flights to accommodate him for between $102 and $333.
In August, Price took a chartered flight from Raleigh, N.C., where he gave a speech to a flu vaccine manufacturer, to Brunswick Golden Isles Airport in Georgia, arriving a day-a-half early for medical conference on St. Simons Island, where he owns land, to address local doctors. Commercial flights again were available. HHS paid $86,000 to ferry Price between five states in four days.
But Price isn’t alone. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnunchin, the former Wall Street hedge fund manager and Hollywood producer worth $350 million, took a military jet from last month from New York to Washington, according to ABC.
Mnunchin maintained he needed a secure phone line as a member of the National Security Council, responsible for the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence
He also took a government plane to Fort Knox, Ky., with his wife, Scottish-born actress Louise Linton, for a tax reform event on the day of the solar eclipse in the “zone of totality.” He said he would reimburse the government for the cost of his wife’s travel.
Previously, Mnunchin requested an Air Force jet for his honeymoon in June to Scotland, France and Italy, again on the premise he needed a secure phone line. He later withdrew the request.
Then there’s Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, which is targeted for major cuts while he flies in a private jet from Denver to Durango, Colo., and reportedly in a military plane from Cincinnati to New York.
Inspectors general also are looking into the legality of Mnunchin and Pruitt’s flights.
Fiscal responsibility needs to be practiced by all cabinet members, not just a few.
Perhaps the president could set an example on ground transportation by purchasing golf carts the Secret Service rents during his outings at his Bedminster, N.J., and Mar-a-Lago, Fla., courses. According to the progressive super PAC American Bridge — as reviewed by USA TODAY — the rental contracts have cost taxpayers $59,585 thus far this year.