HHS Secretary Resigns After Controversy Over Use of Private Charter Aircraft

Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price resigned from office on Friday under pressure from an unhappy President Trump. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price resigned from office on Friday under pressure from an unhappy President Trump. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price on Friday resigned, following revelations that he used private charter aircraft for official travel at taxpayers’ expense.

President Trump had said earlier this week that he was not happy with Price’s use of the charter flights, and answered “We’ll see,” when asked if he would fire the HHS chief. The White House sent out a statement Friday afternoon announcing the secretary had resigned and that Don Wright, deputy assistant secretary for health and director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, would lead the department until a permanent replacement can be found.

Price booked at least 24 private flights in recent months while addressing issues like disaster response and a Republican health care plan, Politico reported late last week. The estimated total cost of the flights was as much as $400,000, and because the travel was for official business, the flights were booked using taxpayer money.

The HHS inspector general’s office is investigating Price’s travel, and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is also looking into the matter.

Price on Thursday announced that he would halt the use of private charter flights for business, cooperate with investigators and reimburse the U.S. Treasury for past expenses with a personal check.

But an HHS spokesperson later clarified that Price's check would be for $51,887.31, which covers only the cost of his own seat on the flights. “The taxpayers won’t pay a dime for his seats on charter planes,” the spokesperson said.   

In his statement, Price said that all of his travel in recent weeks was approved by legal and HHS officials.

“I regret the concerns this has raised regarding the use of taxpayer dollars,” he said. “All of my political career I’ve fought for the taxpayers. It is clear to me that in this case, I was not sensitive enough to my concern for the taxpayer. I know as well as anyone that the American people want to know that their hard-earned dollars are being spent wisely by government officials.”

Read Price's letter below in full:

Dear Mr. President:
It is an honor and privilege to serve you as the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Under your leadership, the Department is working aggressively to improve the health and well-being of all Americans. This includes working to reform a broken health care system, empower patients, reduce regulatory burdens, ensure global health security, and tackle clinical priorities such as the opioids epidemic, serious mental illness and childhood obesity.

I have spent forty years both as a doctor and public servant putting people first. I regret that the recent events have created a distraction from these important objectives.

Success on these issues is more important than any one person. In order for you to move forward without further disruption, I am officially tendering my resignation as the Secretary of Health and Human Services effective 11:59 PM on Friday, September 29, 2017.

You may rest assured that I  will continue to support your critical priorities going ahead because failure is not an option for the American people.

Yours truly,
Thomas E. Price, M.D.
 

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