Ex-HHS Secretary Tom Price spent $14,000 on airfare to Wilmington, Ohio

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price's office spent $14,120 on a seven-person, one-day chartered trip from Washington D.C. to Wilmington last year, a government watchdog found.

Price’s Washington, D.C.-Ohio flight cost about $10,000 more than the average commercial cost for the same travel, the department’s inspector general found.

By comparison, at today’s airfare rates, it would be cheaper to fly seven people on a week-long round trip from Dayton to Dubai next week (the Dayton Daily News found that trip available for $12,653), than to fly like Price and his staff did on a charter jet to the Wilmington Air Park. And that doesn’t consider the government-contracted rates available to federal employees.

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Price, who resigned in September, visited the Alkermes pharmaceutical factory on April 26, 2017, to promote the Trump administration’s opioid agenda. The company produces the opioid treatment drug Vivitrol near the Wilmington Air Park.

The trip to Wilmington is one of 20 trips Price took that did not comply with federal requirements, the watchdog said.

"Overall, we determined that the use of chartered aircraft and identified noncompliance issues resulted in wast of federal funds totaling at least $341,000," the inspector general's report said.

A Health and Human Services deputy secretary told the Washington Post 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.”

"HHS and this administration are dedicated to serving the American people and being responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars," Eric Hargan said Friday in a statement to the Post. "In furtherance of this goal, the department has instituted the most rigorous controls on travel in the organization's history."

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Price’s Wilmington trip was one of three where the lowest quote was not selected, nor was a justification written during the contracting process stating why the lowest bid was not chosen, the report said. The trip’s lowest quote was $12,425.

The watchdog found Price’s office said the plane listed on the lower quote did not adequately seat eight passengers.

“However, from our review, we determined the plane could sufficiently seat seven passengers, which was the number of passengers on the actual trip. As a result, we determined the plane listed on the lower quote was sufficient,” the report said.

The inspector general’s cost comparison found the average commercial price for Price’s trip to the area was about $3,682.

In 2017, the Dayton Daily News filed a request under the federal Freedom of Information Act seeking details from Health and Human Services about Price’s Wilmington trip. The request is “in process,” according to the department.

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