U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has promised to repay the nearly $52,000 cost of his seats on private charter flights, as President Donald Trump reportedly fumed over the penchant of aides to hop on private jets.
The expensive obsession, which had cost the US treasury several millions of dollars, is also drawing sharp scrutiny from Congress, according to Reuters.
“Today, I will write a personal check to the U.S. Treasury for the expenses of my travel on private charter planes,” said Price, a former member of Congress, in a statement. “The taxpayers won’t pay a dime for my seat on those planes.”
Price was one of a handful of senior officials in President Donald Trump’s administration put on the defensive over reports about their use of charter flights and government aircraft, sometimes for personal travel, when they could have flown commercial for less money.
Price told Fox News on Thursday that Trump had spoken to him about the matter and was not happy. Asked if he retained Trump’s confidence, Price said he worked at the president’s pleasure.
Washington media outlet Politico reported that Price had taken at least two dozen private charter flights since May at a cost to U.S. taxpayers of more than $400,000.
Politico in a report on Thursday night said the White House had approved the use of military aircraft for other trips by Price to Africa, Europe and Asia in the spring and summer that cost taxpayers more than $500,000.
“Secretary Price will write a personal check to the U.S. Treasury for $51,887.31,” a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services said on Thursday.
Price is paying his individual share of the charter flight cost, an HHS official said. Price said earlier on Thursday he believed he retained Trump’s confidence.
Senior U.S. government officials travel frequently, but are generally expected to keep the costs down by taking commercial flights or the train when possible.
Price, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin were all in the spotlight for their travel habits.
Politico reported late on Thursday that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke took a charter flight from Las Vegas to Glacier Park International Airport in Montana in June that cost $12,375. The route is served by commercial flights.
Zinke also took charter flights between St. Croix and St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands in March and used a military aircraft to travel to Norway in May, according to Politico.
“As with previous interior secretaries, the Secretary traveled on charter flights when there were no commercial options available,” Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift said in a statement. “All travel is pre-approved by the ethics office before booking and the charter flights went through an additional level of due diligence.”
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley urged Trump in a statement ”to emphasise to cabinet secretaries the necessity of using reasonable and cost-effective modes of travel in accordance with federal restrictions.”