CDC Resumes Use of Jet After Controversy
CDC has resumed use of the Gulfstream III, a private jet leased by the agency at a cost of $252,000 monthly, after the airplane "sat idle for nearly four months after it was the subject of controversy," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports (Young , Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 10/26).
CDC leases the jet for use in the event of bioterrorism threats, emerging infectious diseases and other emergencies. Earlier this year, use of the jet by HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt to promote the Medicare prescription drug benefit and attend state pandemic flu meetings received criticism from some lawmakers and others.
Last fall, Congress authorized Leavitt to use the jet "in times of emergencies" and during "significant events" (American Health Line, 6/15). Leavitt used the jet for 19 trips to visit more than 90 cities at a cost of $720,000 in flight hours (Young , Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 10/26).
This month, CDC used the jet for two trips to Panama City to deliver equipment and staff to investigate an illness that caused almost two dozen deaths. On Sept. 27, CDC used the jet for a trip to Sacramento, Calif., to collect a sample in a suspected human rabies case.
The three trips cost $84,300 in flight hours, and the lease and use of the jet this year to date has cost almost $3.5 million.
CDC spokesperson Tom Skinner said, "I want to make absolutely crystal clear it's imperative CDC have access to a plane like this to do the very business of protecting health" (Young , Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 10/26).
According to a report released on Wednesday by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), use of private jets by senior federal officials since 2001 has cost $1.5 million, and use by Leavitt has accounted for half of that amount. For the report, Waxman and Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) in June requested information about the use of private jets by senior officials in 15 federal departments and agencies.
In addition to his use of the CDC jet, Leavitt, during his tenure as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, used private jets to make several trips at a cost of $41,571. In a 10-page letter to Rob Portman, administrator of the White House Office of Management and Budget, Waxman asked Portman to inform senior federal officials that they should not routinely use private jets.
"This is not a wise use of taxpayer dollars, which should not be squandered on expensive travel arrangements," Waxman said.
Leavitt spokesperson Christina Pearson said that his use of the CDC jet was appropriate and "the most efficient and most effective way to get problems solved," adding, "I would say that we wouldn't preclude using it in the future." Leavitt has not used the CDC jet since June (Young , Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 10/26).