HHS watchdog investigating Tom Price's travel

U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) speaks at the Brookings Institution November 30, 2016 in Washington, DC. President-elect Donald Trump has picked Rep. Price to become the next Secretary of Health and Human Services. 

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The Health and Human Services' inspector general is now investigating HHS Secretary Tom Price's reported frequent use of government-funded private charter planes for work, CBS has confirmed, making Price the second cabinet member whose travel is under review by an agency watchdog.

The OIG is looking into Price's travel habits, amid a Politico report that Price has used private charter planes at least two dozen times to the tune of $300,000 since he joined the administration in February, sometimes on jaunts that typically have a number of commercial flights scheduled. 

"OIG is conducting a review of Secretary Price's federal travel using chartered aircraft," HHS OIG spokeswoman Teisa Williams told CBS. "The review focuses on whether the travel complied with federal travel regulations, but may encompass other issues related to the travel. "We take this matter very seriously, and when questions arose about potentially inappropriate travel, we immediately began assessing the issue. I can confirm that work is underway and will be completed as soon as possible."

Price's reported travel is particularly under fire because he preached fiscal conservatism in Congress, and because Republicans are trying to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act to stabilize government spending.

The IG's inquiry makes Price at least the second top administration official whose travel is under scrutiny. A spokesman for the Treasury Department's inspector general recently confirmed that the OIG is looking into all of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's requests for and instances of travel, after Mnuchin reportedly used a government plane to view the eclipse in Kentucky last month, and reportedly requested the use of a government plane for his honeymoon.

Price's recent predecessors typically used commercial flights. An HHS spokesperson said Price used charter flights to fit his demanding schedule, and for hurricane response, although Politico reported the majority of the flights took place before Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma.

House Democrats wrote to HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson earlier this week, asking for a review of Price's travel. 

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, the ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is also urging his Republican-controlled committee to investigate the matter. Cummings said this is an instance of officials in the Trump administration being "spoiled by a culture of unaccountability." 

"Too many Trump administration officials have an entitled, millionaire mindset when it comes to squandering taxpayer money that does not belong to them just to support their lavish lifestyles," Cummings said in a Friday statement. "This starts at the very top, and the American people are not going to keep footing the bill for the Trump Administration's champagne wishes and caviar dreams. It is clear that officials in the Trump administration have been spoiled by a culture of unaccountability, and they are emboldened by the failure of House Republicans to do their job under the Constitution to act as a check on the president and the executive branch. These are exactly the kinds of abuses the Oversight Committee is supposed to investigate and hold hearings on — and that's exactly what we should do here."

CBS News' Katiana Krawchenko contributed to this report. 

  • Kathryn Watson

    Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.