The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Flying High: HHS Secretary Proves Pork Can Fly

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


Mike Leavitt’s got a ticket to ride, and he don’t care.  The Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary used a luxury private jet, leased by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention for use only in emergencies, to rack up $720,000, or 60 percent, of the $2.1 million the jet has cost taxpayers since January.

Leavitt made 19 trips to 99 cities, using the jet to attend to “emergencies” such as the promotion of President Bush’s new Medicare prescription drug plan, news conferences, and meetings with state officials regarding their flu pandemic plans.  Although these activities seem reasonable for the HHS Secretary, why he needs a Gulfstream III 14-seat aircraft to complete the tasks is anyone’s guess.  Perhaps he finds normal business class flights too crowded. 

Although it may be Leavitt’s job to spread the word on Bush’s new policies, his actions hardly fulfill the congressional guidelines that Leavitt use the jet only “in times of emergencies and in the days following such emergencies.”  While Leavitt was busy using the emergency jet to make his job easier, the CDC was forced to find another plane during two actual emergencies: an anthrax case in Pennsylvania and a laboratory accident in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  During the lab accident, a person was exposed to radioactive material and needed Prussian blue, a compound that is used to remove radioactive materials from victims' bodies, to be flown in.  The CDC had to use another plane to transport the medicine, costing $15,200 in flight fees.

The average cost per flight of Leavitt’s ad campaign for Bush administration policies has been $38,947, about 130 times more than it costs to fly from New York to Los Angeles with United Airlines.  If Leavitt is simply doing PR for the administration, why does he need to fly for 130 times as much as the average business professional on a plane meant only for emergencies? 

Leavitt was grilled at a June 14 hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee about his high-flying antics.  He claimed his use of the jet was necessary, and Republican lawmakers were quick to come to his defense.  “It is important that our national spokesman get out there to where the people are,” said Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.).  Leavitt also claimed that he tried to use commercial airlines whenever possible but left unexplained why the 19 pre-planned trips to promote new Medicare policies were not booked on commercial flights.

Interestingly, prior to being given the authority to commandeer the CDC jet, Leavitt managed to perform his official duties adequately using commercial airlines, with the exception of the Katrina disaster.  This is yet another demonstration that when given the proper motivation, opportunity, and equipment, porkers do indeed fly.

Douglas Rogers

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