The White House released a statement this afternoon announcing that Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Thomas Price offered his resignation earlier today and the President accepted.
Price, a former Georgia Congressman and an appointee of President Donald Trump, was facing mounting criticism and an investigation about his use of private jets for official business.
According to many media reports, Price’s position appeared to be at risk in recent days as President Trump made several remarks voicing his frustration with the situation. The Hill reported, “Trump made ominous remarks Friday about how he was going to make a decision soon on Price's future. Asked by reporters Friday afternoon if Price had offered to resign, Trump replied: ‘No, but we'll see what happens later on.’”
Price offered to pay for "his seat" on the flights, which comes to about $52,000, The Hill also reported, but that amount doesn’t cover the total cost of the trips.
In a statement issued Thursday, Price said, “Today, I will write a personal check to the US Treasury for the expenses of my travel on private charter planes. The taxpayers won't pay a dime for my seat on those planes.” Price also said in his statement, “I regret the concerns this has raised regarding the use of taxpayer dollars.”
According to the White House statement, President Trump intends to designate Don Wright, M.D., to serve as Acting Secretary. Wright currently serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health and Director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Wright has served in various roles within HHS since 2007. Prior to joining HHS, Wright was the Director of the Office of Occupational Medicine for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). And, prior to entering government service, Wright was a practicing clinician, and, according to his bio on the HHS website, Wright “maintained an extensive clinical and consulting practice in central Texas” for 15 years.
Price’s work-related travel on private jets was first reported Sept. 19 by Politico. Reporters for Politico reported that the travel cost taxpayers nearly $1 million, or about $400,000 for private charters and $500,000 in military airplane costs. Most of the trips were between cities where inexpensive commercial flights were also available.
The media reports sparked widespread criticism. Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, wrote a letter to the secretary on Thursday about his “tax-payer funded private jet travel.” In the letter, Sen. Murray called on Price to provide detailed information on the purpose of each private jet trip he has taken and any communications between his office and the White House regarding his travel plans.
"The decision is particularly shocking as you serve in an administration that routinely calls for draconian spending cuts and a reduction in government waste, and you yourself have repeatedly advocated for fiscal restraint," Murray wrote.
The letter by Sen. Murray followed investigations being launched by the Office of Inspector General and House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. HHS inspector General Daniel Levinson launched an investigation of Price’s travel spending on Sept. 22.
On Sept. 27, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) sent letters to the White House and 24 federal agencies requesting information related to senior officials’ use of government-owned aircraft or private non-commercial aircraft for official and personal travel.
Price was confirmed as HHS Secretary in February. According to a NPR article, Price had a reputation as a “budget hawk who would fight government waste and rein in spending.”
NPR reporter Alison Kodjak further wrote, “A former orthopedic surgeon, Price was a fierce opponent of the ACA, also known as Obamacare. While serving as head of HHS, he cut the agency's spending for outreach and advertising in support of the insurance exchanges created by the law and issued news releases and created videos critical of the law's effects on the individual insurance markets.”
Get the latest information on Health IT and attend other valuable sessions at this two-day Summit providing healthcare leaders with educational content, insightful debate and dialogue on the future of healthcare and technology.