Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and his wife attended the Wimbledon tennis tournament and took a Thames River cruise during a 10-day work trip to Europe in July on a taxpayer-funded trip, The Washington Post reported Friday.
Shulkin flew to Europe to meet with British and Danish officials about veterans’ issues, but his tourism during his free time—and the unusual decision for the government to cover his wife’s flight and meals, when other spouses on the trip had to pay their own way—has raised ethical concerns, especially after the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price after admitting to spending more than $1 million in government funds on private jets.
Shulkin traveled on commercial flights, which cost much less than private airfare but still are covered with taxpayer funds.
Ten days is “kind of a long trip for the secretary to be gone,” Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, told the Post. “The cost has got to be extravagant.”
About half the trip’s itinerary called for sightseeing, the Post reported. The VA did not respond to the Post’s questions as to why Shulkin’s wife, Merle Bari, qualified for taxpayer-funded reimbursements, but said she was traveling on “approved invitational orders” and had “temporary duty” travel expenses.
VA spokesman Curt Cashour did tell the Post that the trip had been “reviewed and approved by ethics counsel.”
“These were important trips with our allies to discuss best practices for taking care of veterans,” Cashour said in a statement. “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.”
Shulkin was President Trump’s lone Cabinet member to be approved by the Senate unanimously.