You’re Not Going To Believe How Much HHS Officials Spent To Fly First Class


Adding to the outrage of how much the Obama Administration spends on travel, thanks to the Washington Examiner and the Freedom of Information Act, we now know what Health and Human Services staffers under former Secretary Kathleen Sebelius were spending to fly all over the world.  In a nutshell: a lot.

The basic facts:

  • Between 2009 and 2013, executives spent $31 million to take 7,000 first class flights
  •  253 of those trips were one way tickets that cost $15,000
  • Records indicate that for $18 million worth of first class tickets, coach seats on the same flights would have cost $4.9 million
  • Of the 7,000 flights, only 1,400 were longer than 14 hours, for which a first class ticket is allowed (can’t say I blame anyone for taking advantage of that)
  • According to the records, on 5,100 of the flights where officials upgraded, a medical disability was used as the reason; what medical disabilities qualify or were used was not described
  • Former Secretary Sebelius, snazzy Kate herself, took 14 first class flights for a total of $56,000 some being of the Paris to India variety

It wasn’t just the HHS people, but their sub-departments as well:

The Food and Drug Administration took 2,000 upgraded trips costing $14 million and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took 3,000 trips costing $11 million. The National Institutes of Health took 1,300 such trips costing $3.5 million.

One flight for the Food and Drug Administration from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles is listed as costing $26,469.23, with the upgrade because of a medical disability. A flight to Germany cost $23,000 for the same reason. Another FDA staffer spent an extra $10,000 of taxpayer money to fly first class from San Francisco to D.C.

A flight by FDA inspector David Heiar to India cost $30,000. Inspector Robert Horan flew to Hong Kong at a cost of $21,427 when coach would have cost $5,021. Another inspector flew to Australia for $12,344 when coach was $543.

But over 1,000 trips were for conferences, training sessions, speeches and meetings. An additional 1,000 records didn’t have a description of the purpose.

Hundreds of trips were also taken by top HHS officials in the Office of the Secretary.

According to the Washington Examiner article, all federal agencies have some allowances for first class flights, but it seems that Health and Human Services outspends the others by a considerable margin.  Even Defense and Commerce, which have arguably more legitimate business overseas than HHS.  It seems that the missions of the various departments of HHS are international in scope, and that is used extensively as justification for the amount of travel.

We complain a lot about entitlements being expensive, but a look at the travel habits of cabinet workers and one has to wonder what the budget lawmakers see looks like.  Line item for travel is $31 million?  Some digging is definitely in order.

About the Author

Cultural Limits
A resident of Flyover Country, Cultural Limits is a rare creature in American Conservatism - committed to not just small government, Christianity and traditional social roles, but non-profits and high arts and culture. Watching politics, observing human behavior and writing are all long-time interests. In her other life, CL writes romance novels under her nom de plume, Patricia Holden (@PatriciaHoldenAuthor on Facebook), and crochets like a mad woman (designs can be found on Facebook @BohemianFlairCrochet and on Pinterest on the Bohemian Flair Crochet board). In religion, CL is Catholic; in work, the jill of all trades when it comes to fundraising software manipulation and event planning; in play, a classically trained soprano and proud citizen of Cardinal Nation, although, during hockey season, Bleeds Blue. She lives in the Mid-Mississippi River Valley with family and two cute and charming tyrants...make that toy dogs.