As the White House faces criticism over costly taxpayer-funded travel, the Trump administration released new statistics showing it authorized fewer flights on military aircraft by senior government officials than Barack Obama’s staff did.
There were 77 so-called White House support missions authorized between Jan. 20 and Sept. 19, according to statistics compiled by the White House military office. By comparison, there were 94 such flights during the first eight months of Obama’s tenure.
The White House released the figures to combat criticism over the use of taxpayer-funded travel on charter flights by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
Price’s flights have cost at least $400,000, which have been paid for by his department, according to Politico, which was the first to report the use of his charter flights. A single round-trip flight from Washington Dulles International Airport to Philadelphia in mid-September cost about $25,000, Politico reported.
Price said he would stop travel on private jets pending the outcome of reviews by HHS and its inspector general. “We’re looking into it,” Trump told reporters Sunday.
The White House does not approve or reject agency travel associated with private or chartered jets, officials say.
“This wasn’t White House-approved travel,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Monday. She declined to say what the White House thinks of Price’s flights now.
The White House is responsible for approving military flights by senior officials. It is unclear how much these flights have cost taxpayers.
Most flights in both the Trump and Obama administrations appear to be taken by national security officials, Cabinet secretaries or other senior level officials who need to maintain access to secure communications, according to a senior administration official.
This year, the flights include ones taken by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson around the globe and Cabinet secretaries to visit hurricane-ravaged areas.
The Trump White House follows the process outlined in a memo by Obama’s former chief of staff, Bill Daley, in April 2011. The White House declined to release the memo.
Months ago, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin met with agency officials at the White House to outline what types of travel would qualify.
The director of the White House military office did not immediately return a call.