Since he took office in January, the American people have expressed concerns about the amount of money President Trump costs taxpayers with his frequent vacations. Instead of learning from the criticism their boss receives and working to conserve money, many members of Trump’s cabinet have followed his lead and spent an exorbitant amount of money on travel over the last few months.
Reports surfaced earlier this week about Trump’s Health and Human Services secretary, Tom Price, spending over $1 million on overseas travel since May. Interior secretary Ryan Zinke also made headlines after it was revealed that he has spent thousands of taxpayer dollars on private and military flights.
Now, Trump’s Veterans Affairs secretary, David Shulkin, is also in hot water after The Washington Post revealed questionable details about a trip he took to Europe this past July.
WaPo reported on Friday that, three days into his 10-day trip, Shulkin attended a Wimbledon championship tennis match, toured Westminster Abbey, and took a cruise on the Thames.
Shulkin did attend to some business during his trip, meeting with Danish and British officials about veterans’ health issues. However, he and his wife also spent ample time sightseeing, shopping, and touring historic sites.
Shulkin traveled to Europe with his wife, Merle Bari, his acting undersecretary of health and her husband, his chief of staff, and another aide. The party was also accompanied by a security detail of up to six people.
A VA official said on Friday that the government paid for Bari’s airfare because she was traveling on “approved invitational orders.” The government also provided a per diem for her meals.
To his credit, Shulkin and his party did travel to Europe on a commercial flight and sat in coach on at least one leg. At the same time, though, his trip still raises questions about the appropriateness of mixing business and leisure on taxpayer-funded trips.
It’s also worth noting that Shulkin’s trip came less than two weeks after he issued a memo to top VA staffers asking them to determine whether “employee travel in their organization is essential.”
In the memo, he wrote:
‘I expect this will result in decreased employee travel and generate savings within the Department of Veterans Affairs.’
VA press secretary Curt Cashour told WaPo in an emailed statement that all of Shulkin’s activities during his trip “were reviewed and approved by ethics counsel.”
‘These were important trips with our allies to discuss best practices for taking care of veterans. The secretary has been transparent on his down-time activities that were similar to what he would have done with his family over a weekend in the U.S.’
Despite the fact that the activities were approved, one ethics expert said that the trip sends the wrong message to taxpayers, especially since Shulkin’s wife’s expenses were covered by the government.
Walter Schaub Jr., who resigned from his position as director of the United States Office of Government Ethics earlier this year, also commented on Shulkin’s trip:
‘That’s kind of a long trip for the secretary to be gone. The cost has got to be extravagant.’
In response to questions from WaPo about Shulkin’s trip, the VA announced on Friday that the agency will begin posting details of the secretary’s travel online, including itineraries, and disclosing any use of government or private aircraft. Until now, that information has not been publicly disclosed.
Featured image via Win McNamee/Getty Images.