Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price vowed Thursday not to take anymore private charter jets in his government role, and said he would write a check to the U.S. Treasury to reimburse past flights.
"I will take no more private charter flights as Secretary of HHS," he said in a statement. "No exceptions ... the taxpayers won't pay a dime for my seat on those planes."
Price said he was continuing to cooperate with an investigation opened by the Office of the Inspector General, as well as an internal review by his agency, and noted that all of his travel had been approved by the legal department and by HHS officials. According to reporting by Politico, his flights, of which there were at least 24, have cost the federal government about $400,000 this year. He at times used a jet to travel on official business but also combined the trips with personal business.
"I regret the concerns this has raised regarding the use of taxpayer dollars," Price 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."
Price will not be paying $400,000 for the cost of the flights, which include seats for HHS staff, but will write a check to the U.S. Treasury for his seats for $51,887.31.
"What the Secretary has done is say that while all of this travel was approved by legal and HHS officials, the Secretary has heard the taxpayers' concerns and wants to be responsive to them," said an HHS spokesperson. "That's why he's taking the unprecedented step of reimbursing the government for his share of the travel."
President Trump said Wednesday that he was "not happy" about Price's use of charter jets. He said they were "looking into it" and that he "maybe" would consider firing Price.
The White House suspended all use of private jets by HHS pending the various investigations, and Price had said previously that he would not take anymore private jets until the review was complete. Thursday, following the president's comments, he went further by saying he would reimburse the government and said he would not spend any of his time as secretary taking a jet.
Price, a former Georgia Republican lawmaker who has spoken out against wasteful spending in government, has taken criticism across the political spectrum for his actions. Past health secretaries have taken commercial flights for official business.
Price indicated in his statement Thursday that he would like to stay on at his role.
"I have spent forty years both as a doctor and in public service putting people first," he said. "It has been my personal honor to serve the American people, and I look forward to continuing that service."