Claiming possession of that which does not belong to you is unlawful and necessitates punishment, a result that should not depend on positions of status. This law seems so straightforward, and yet we see countless examples of powerful people who act as though they are above it.
The fact that now-former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was a powerful man in no way gave him permission to misuse nearly $1 million in taxpayer money by using charter flights for domestic travel and military aircraft for international flights, spending $400,000 on the former and more than $500,000 on the latter.
Price’s judgment inflated the necessity of these expenses in a manner that makes him unfit for public service. Only when commercial airlines cannot accommodate necessary domestic trips, or when considerable danger could affect international travel, would Price have had valid reason to choose a charter flight or use military aircraft.
Despite this, Price’s frequent use of charter jets for travel within the United States was rarely necessitated by the scarcity of more affordable, commercial options and presents a reprehensible break with the precedent set by those who came before him.
In her five years of service, former Secretary Kathleen Sebelius only used charter jets for travel to rural Alaska, which commercial airlines could not have accommodated.
To illustrate just how irresponsible Price’s use of taxpayer dollars was, consider a case in which over the course of one week in September, Price’s travel plans included five charter flights with a total estimated cost of $60,000.
One flight in particular seems to epitomize Price’s abuse. For $25,000, Price flew to Philadelphia on a charter plane departing at 8:27 a.m. when he could have flown commercially on an 8:22 a.m. United Airlines flight for $447 round trip or taken an Amtrak train at 7:25 a.m. for $72.
Walter Shaub, who until July was director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, explains he “can understand why the secretary might have to use a charter flight to get to a hurricane-devastated region, but Philadelphia is not one of those regions this year.”
“Taxpayers should pay no more than necessary for your transportation,” Shaub said – a sentiment that Price’s own public statements would lead you to believe he shares.
Regarding an 18 percent budget cut to his own department, Price said in March, “Our goal is to … [try] to decrease the areas where there are either duplications, redundancies or waste … and get a larger return for the investment of the American taxpayer.”
Either Price was utterly insincere about his intentions to respect those American taxpayers, or he severely misjudged how best to use their money. Both options render him unfit to serve in his position, and his offer to somehow return only the money for which he feels responsible – a laughable $52,000 solely covering the cost of his own seats – is ludicrous.
In this entire situation, the only decision of Price’s the Editorial Board endorses is his decision to resign. That he should address, unoriginally, the “honor and privilege” of his position in his resignation letter only underscores the hypocrisy of his abuse, which the American people are better off without.
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