Thursday, 1 September, the Los Angeles Times “broke” the story Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has flown home to California 5 times in his 9 weeks in office. No one begrudges the man his weekends to decompress and spend time with family. The article’s tone suggests insiders wonder if Panetta takes his job seriously and just how in charge is he. To clarify the significance of this, the Service Secretaries (Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force) and the Combatant Commanders report directly to him. He is second, only to the President, in the National Command Authority.
Curiously, the article fails to cite any specific allegation the Secretary’s shirking his duties. To the contrary, several official sources state Panetta is available 24/7 and taking care of business. Panetta is required to use government aircraft to ensure he has secure communications available. There’s no doubt Secretary Panetta has secure communications capability in his Monterey CA home, what some are calling the Pacific Pentagon. So that’s not the issue, nor is it Panetta himself. From the Times article:
It is common for members of Congress to fly back to their districts every weekend or so, and Panetta did so when he represented Monterey in the House from 1977 to 1993, and as CIA director, his first job in the Obama administration.
For his trips home, Panetta must reimburse the Treasury for the cost of commercial coach fare. Since he’d never fly coach, why not require him to reimburse the cost of first class? I checked coach from DC to Monterey; round trip cost was $427. Panetta typically flies on a C-37b, the military version of a Gulfstream 550, which costs $3,200 an hour to operate. Flight time by C-37b between DC and Monterey is 4-1/2 hours, so each round trip is $33,280. After Panetta pays his share, taxpayers are left with the remaining $32,853 per trip cost. At the current rate, Panetta will make about 26 trips per year, taking $854,178 out of our pockets.
We all know, however, Panetta is not the only senior official who takes junkets in government aircraft. Suppose, for the sake of argument, the 21 other cabinet and cabinet-level officials make 10 trips per year equivalent to Secretary Panetta’s. In such a scenario, there’s an annual cost to taxpayers $7.75 million. There are 535 Sentators and US Representatives, which the Times article mentioned also make frequent trips home. Since travel distances are different for each, and some travel more or less frequently, let’s assume each makes the equivalent of 10 of Leon Panetta’s round trips per year. Under that assumption, total cost to the taxpayers for our elected officials to commute is $178.05 million. Ending this perk, just at this level, could cut the deficit by $186 million annually. That’s not much by deficit standards, but it’s a start and it doesn’t affect the little guy.
Previously on government travel costs:
- Jill Biden Visits Starving Somalis to Address their Concerns
- Congressional Double Standard Grounded for Once