Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who reportedly took five separate private jet flights for government business last week, once slammed Congress for authorizing funding for private planes.
Price, a fiscal conservative who has long pledged spending discipline, took the flights at an estimated cost of at least $60,000, according to Politico. The travel included an estimated $25,000 round trip from Washington to nearby Philadelphia.
The two HHS secretaries who served prior to Price took commercial flights while in the continental United States, the news outlet said.
Price had a very different outlook on government spending for private planes while serving as a congressman from Georgia. In a 2009 CNBC interview, he criticized House Democrats for trying to spend $550 million on eight passenger jets.
He said a scaled-back request of $220 million for four jets also went too far.
"I think we've made it halfway of where we ought to and that is cut it from eight to four jets," Price said at the time. "Now we need to cut it from four jets to zero jets. This is just another example of fiscal irresponsibility run amok in Congress right now."
In a statement, HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Charmaine Yoest said the agency is making "every effort" to "maximize Secretary Price's ability to travel outside Washington."
"The travel department continues to check every possible source for travel needs including commercial, but commercial travel is not always feasible," she said. "The President has made it clear his Administration will move power out of Washington and return it to the American people. Secretary Price will continue meeting with the American people outside of the Beltway to hear their concerns and ensure HHS makes decisions that best provide for their needs."
Price's flights last week cost tens of thousands of dollars more than commercial travel for the same schedule would have cost. He went to Philadelphia for a Q&A session with the CEO of Athenahealth and visited community health centers in both New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, Politico said, citing internal documents.
Commercial travel options were available around the time of Price's flights last week, according to Politico.
It is unclear if he took private flights for other official business since joining the Trump administration.
Price also backed an 18 percent HHS budget cut proposed by the Trump administration for fiscal 2018. He was expected to present a plan to overhaul the agency's structure to the White House this month, Politico reported.
Democrats seized on the Politico report. Price "is in charge of the health of all Americans – instead of wasting their money, he should start working to protect them," said Adrienne Watson, Democratic National Committee deputy communications director, in a statement.