Lavish travel costs taxpayers

This April 11, 2014 file photo shows President Barack Obama, flanked by outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, left, and his nominee to replace her, current Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell, speaking in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

The Washington Examiner newspaper recently obtained federal travel records from a number of agencies and found that the Department of Health and Human Services likes to spend taxpayers’ money lavishly on first class travel.

Between 2009 and 2013, the records show, the department spent $31 million on 7,000 first-class and business-class trips, including 253 trips in which the one-way fare cost more than $15,000.

Government officials are only allowed to upgrade from economy-class fares for medical or clear job-related reasons. About half of the travel records obtained by The Examiner compared the fares paid to economy class, demonstrating that those upgrades cost the government a staggering $14 million.

For the vast majority of the 7,000 flights, government executives claimed the upgrade was required by a medical disability. If true, we worry about the physical condition of the HHS workforce.

Another insight into that workforce — its sense of the value of its time — is offered by the Examiner’s report that an unspecified number of officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMAS) decided to fly business class from Charlotte, N.C., to Charleston, a distance of just over 200 miles, for a fare of $1,000 one way.

A review of flight schedules shows that a direct flight takes just over one hour, to which must be added the usual hour early reporting time at the airport and the time (and cost) it takes to get from Charleston airport into the city: say 2 hours and 20 minutes altogether.

It takes just over 3 hours to drive from Charlotte to Charleston, and a luxury car can be rented for a one-way trip for about $200.

Assume that just two officials elected to fly, at $1,000 each. By flying, each saves 40 minutes, or a total of one hour and 20 minutes of taxpayer time. If they drove, it would cost them something less than $250, including gas. So the taxpayer is paying more than $1,750 for 80 minutes of their time, or over $1,350 an hour.

Now we know what HHS officials think their time is worth. You have to wonder: Do the taxpayers agree?