Former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called her successor Tom Price’s repeated use of chartered aircraft “stunning” and said the only time she ever flew a private jet while in office was to visit a trio of remote Alaskan villages.
During her tenure, Sebelius told a roundtable of Bloomberg reporters and editors, health department officials were required to fly economy class for all travel less than 12 consecutive hours. Her lone charter flight, she said, was in a propeller plane her staff hired to visit three villages inaccessible by road or commercial aircraft.
“I have no idea who came up with this notion and where it came from, and the notion you could spend $400,000 in what, 5 months, is stunning,” Sebelius said of Price’s travel practices.
(Related: Sebelius skips SHOP details)
Donald Trump’s health secretary is under scrutiny for traveling at least two dozen times this year by private charter plane, costing taxpayers more than $400,000, according to documents obtained by Politico. In an interview Sunday with Fox News, Price said he was suspending his use of private jets and acknowledged “the optics in some of this don’t look good.”
The department’s inspector general is investigating the matter, and Price said his agency would “cooperate fully” with the review.
“We want to make certain that we have the full confidence of not just this administration, but the American people,” he said.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Monday the travel wasn’t approved by the White House, but that there were likely “certain instances” when private charter travel would be appropriate.
Sebelius said that during the Obama administration, she was subject to strict rules on booking travel.
“The rules that I thought were the rules that we operated under, were: commercial travel — economy, unless you were on a plane trip that was more than 12 consecutive hours, which meant that typically you were going to Asia or Africa, and then you could book a business class ticket,” she said. “But that was it for a business class ticket; there was never a charter anything.”
Sebelius also said she was struck that Price hadn’t reached out to her since becoming secretary. The two haven’t spoken “since he yelled at me in hearings,” she said. Sebelius said she invited each of her predecessors, including from Republican administrations, to visit HHS headquarters as she was beginning her job as secretary.
“I have not had a conversation with him, and I just find that remarkable,” she said.
—-Read 4 things for agents to know about HHS pick Tom Price on ThinkAdvisor.
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