Monthly Archives: July 2018

How to Waste $341,000 (Hint: Certainly Not by Flying Coach with the Proletariat)

I love the Federal Inspectors General. They are truly doing valuable, important oversight work. Sometimes the dollar amounts they oversee are absolutely mind-boggling. When I was a baby auditor at the venerable office of the California State Auditor, working under the guidance of the truly competent Elaine Howle, CPA, I once caught a $527 million dollar journal entry in a state agency’s general journal that had been mistakenly entered as a debit instead of a credit. When we contacted the agency, their budget was so large that they didn’t even realize the error because it wasn’t material!

Anyway, at the federal level, the numbers run into the TRILLIONS overall. Hard to grasp that large of a number. The 73 IG offices in the civilian government, along with the numerous military IG offices, perform some of the most demanding, complex, politically incendiary audits and investigations on the planet. However, sometimes it’s not the size of the numbers that the IG reports, it’s the overall meaning and reputational effect of a specific report. Take, for example, the freshly-released HHS IG report on the travel habits of (former) department secretary Tom Price.

Mr. Price did not like to fly with the rest of us, it would appear. Thus, he thought it appropriate to charter aircraft or order military aircraft to transport him and his lackeys  staff around our great nation. Turns out – SURPRISE – that was improper, and the IG says Mr. Price should pay $341K to the U.S. Treasury. We’ll see how that turns out, but the main point remains: Organizations are profoundly affected by management culture, the much-studied “tone at the top.” A culture of lawlessness and disregard for policies & procedures is inevitably toxic for an organization. In addition, such a high-profile example of blatant graft greatly erodes public trust in government – at all levels. Most citizens don’t really understand that the federal government isn’t responsible for remodeling their local school building, but in their mind, they lump it all together, and overall trust plummets. That’s why, while there is a certain schadenfreude at seeing such an epically arrogant “public servant” be taken to task by the Inspector General, in the end, we all suffer for the behavior.

From the L.A. Times:

“Former Health and Human Services secretary Tom Price should repay the federal government more than $341,000 for improperly using charter and military aircraft for travel for himself and his wife, a new report from the agency’s independent Office of the Inspector General has concluded.

“The Office of the Secretary improperly used federal funds related to former Secretary Price’s government travel,” said the report, released Friday. Auditors found that 20 of the 21 trips that Price took during his brief tenure as secretary in 2017 did not meet federal requirements.

Price, a conservative Georgia congressman and friend of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) whom President Trump tapped to lead the health agency, was forced to resign last September after reports by Politico outlined his extensive use of charter and military aircraft for routine travel domestically and around the world.

Many of the flights were between major U.S. cities served by much cheaper commercial airlines.

 

After the scandal broke, Price said he would repay a portion of the costs.

But the Office of Inspector General recommended that the health agency recoup an additional $341,616 from Price, who is now serving on the advisory board of Atlanta-based Jackson Healthcare.

The inspector general estimated that the government spent nearly $1.2 million on Price’s travel during his seven months in office. That included more than $700,000 in military flights on two foreign and two domestic trips, as well as more than $480,000 for various domestic trips by private chartered aircraft.

In a formal response, HHS agreed with most of the inspector general’s recommendations for tightening up official travel and requested details on the $341,000 that investigators said the government should recoup.

An HHS spokesperson said the agency would ask the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel to review whether there is a legal basis to recoup the money.

Nicholas Peters, a spokesman for Price, suggested in a statement that the costly travel was the result of “good faith mistakes” by HHS staff.

Peters would not say if the former secretary will repay the taxpayer money that the inspector general says should be recouped.

Senior Democrats on Capitol Hill, meanwhile, redoubled their criticism of the former health secretary.

 

“This report confirms Tom Price’s role as the poster child for the rampant waste of taxpayer dollars that has occurred on Trump’s watch — all while he was pursuing dangerous policies that increase families’ premiums and weaken their healthcare,” said Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.

Wyden was among many Democrats who opposed Price’s nomination, citing among other things revelations that while a congressman, Price had traded extensively in the stocks of healthcare companies that could have been affected by his votes and actions.

Extravagant spending on travel and office remodeling by top officials became a running story as the Trump administration took power in Washington on a presidential promise to “drain the swamp.”

 

Price was forced out in the fall of 2017 after his travel drew the ire of President Trump, who was also upset over the GOP failure to repeal Obamacare.

A successful orthopedic surgeon before winning a congressional seat from the Atlanta suburbs, Price rose to become one of the top GOP experts on budget and healthcare issues. But as secretary of HHS, he never produced a healthcare plan to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act.

 

Among other findings from the report:

— Investigators questioned Price’s assertion that his official schedule prevented him from flying commercial. In one case a White House event cited as justification was cancelled, and Price’s office chose to continue with a charter flight at a cost of nearly $18,000.

— Even among charter flight options, Price’s office did not always book the lowest-cost trip. In one case the difference between quoted options amounted to nearly $46,000.

— For six trips, Price either started or ended his travel in his home state of Georgia, his most frequent charter travel destination outside of his official duty station in Washington, D.C.

— HHS paid more than $11,500 on commercial flights for a Price trip to China, Vietnam and Japan. But Price ultimately flew on military transport at a cost of more than $430,000 and HHS lost track of what it spent for the commercial airline ticket until the inspector general’s investigators identified the expense.”

 


Music RecommendationSend Me An Omen from The Magpie Salute. An excellent deep-fried southern rocker in the vein of the Allman Brothers Band/Govt. Mule. Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes is the band leader, and he’s got quite a capable cast of players behind him on this. Can’t wait to hear the full new album.

Food Recommendation: Speaking of Southern goodness, I must admit that one of my guilty pleasures is southern food in all its butter-soaked-and-rolled-in-bread-crumbs glory, and Trisha’s Southern Kitchen, a Food Network show hosted by the always-lovely Trisha Yearwood has plenty of Southern goodness, along with some nicely-updated modern recipes.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized