Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, said on Saturday that he did not plan to travel on private jets until the department’s inspector general completes a formal review of the use of taxpayer funds for his chartered flights.
Mr. Price, a physician and former Republican congressman from Georgia who has advocated cost-cutting at his agency, was sharply criticized by Democrats this week after Politico reported that he had chartered several work-related flights at a steep additional cost to the federal government.
In a report published late Saturday afternoon, Politico said it had identified more than $400,000 in spending on private jets for Mr. Price’s travels since May. The report said that taxpayers paid for Mr. Price to take at least 26 flights on private charter planes in that time.
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In an interview on Fox News on Saturday, Mr. Price acknowledged that “the optics in some of this don’t look good.” Still, he maintained that each chartered trip had been legally reviewed.
The secretary said that his department’s inspector general was conducting “a review and an audit” of the approval process, and that he had also initiated a separate “internal departmental review of the procedures.”
“We’ve heard this criticism, and we’re very, very serious about addressing it,” Mr. Price told Fox News.
He added later: “I don’t think there would be any charter trips until this review is complete. I think that’s appropriate because of the concerns that we’ve heard.”
Tesia D. Williams, a spokeswoman for the department’s Office of Inspector General, confirmed late Saturday that the office was reviewing Mr. Price’s use of chartered aircrafts for government travel.
The review, she said, began “as soon as questions arose” and “focuses on whether travel complied with federal travel regulations, but may encompass other issues related to travel.”
Mr. Price defended the chartered trips as having been “work-related and official business.” He said he had taken 11 such trips over the last eight months, the majority of which he said were connected to the opioid crisis or hurricanes.
“We’ve taken many, many trips in cars — sometimes four and five hours at a time,” he said.
Earlier this week, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Department cited Mr. Price’s “incredibly demanding schedule” as explanation for his travel choices.
But Democrats were quick to point out that previous secretaries flew on commercial airlines even while dealing with grueling schedules; several called for a review by the inspector general, which is now apparently underway.
It was not clear exactly how long the review would take, but Mr. Price told Fox News he expected it would be completed “expeditiously.”