Last November, President Obama asked his Cabinet members to cut back on all expenses, from cell phone use to official gifts such as pencils and mugs to travel costs – a line item Obama mentioned specifically:
“At a time when families have had to cut back, have had to make some tough decisions about getting rid of things they don’t need in order to make the investments that they do, we thought it was entirely appropriate for our governments and our agencies to try to root out waste, large and small, in a systematic way.”
Having made that commitment to “root out waste,” when will the president root out the outrage at what the Washington Times headline noted:
“Panetta defends $860,000 for weekly trips home: Defense secretary says taxpayer-paid military flights keep his ‘mind straight’”
Page 1 of the Washington Post was headlined:
“Panetta says he regrets cost of his flights home.”
But, however much he may regret – if he really does regret anything but the bad publicity in a time of such serious national financial distress – he has shown no inclination to stop the outrage of his commuting weekly to California.
“I’ve gone home because my wife and family are there and because, frankly, I think it’s healthy to get out of Washington periodically just to get your mind straight and your perspective straight,” he told reporters at the Pentagon.
Why doesn’t Secretary Panetta move his wife and family to the Washington area, as so many members of Congress and so many thousands of other leaders of government have done?
Each roundtrip costs taxpayers $32,000, and Panetta is required to repay just a fraction of the cost – the equivalent of a commercial roundtrip ticket – for the personal travel, according to federal rules. A Defense Department official said Panetta negotiated the commuting arrangement with the White House before he accepted the job.
“‘The White House understood when Mr. Panetta took the job that he would return to Monterey, Calif., to visit his family as he did when he was director of the CIA,’ a senior administration official said at the time. ‘That’s where his family lives, after all.’”
The Washington Times did not identify this “Defense Department official,” nor was there any report of anyone else in the Defense Department who is allowed to be a weekly commuter to California (or Alaska or Hawaii) with the costs paid by the taxpayers of a federal government already many trillions of dollars in debt.
Earlier this month, amid outcry over wasteful spending at a General Services Administration conference that cost top officials their jobs, Panetta admitted to paying just $17,000 for his share of the cost of 27 roundtrips, approximately $630 per visit. With the draw-downs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, constant terrorism threats and crises, running the Pentagon is anything but a 9-5 office job, and the California weekends help him recharge, a government official said at the time.
“He works virtually nonstop wherever he is,” the official said.
And the Post reported:
“Secretary Panetta said Monday that he regrets that his frequent flights home to California on a military jet have cost the taxpayers more than $800,000 since July. He gave no indication, however, that he would end the weekend commutes.
“Pentagon leaders say they are scraping by to adjust to a new era of austerity. Under a defense budget that will shrink slightly next year for the first time since 1998, Panetta has proposed closing military bases, cutting the number of active-duty troops and raising health-insurance premiums for military retirees.”
Close those bases! Cut the number of troops on active duty – but you are not going to cut the cost to the taxpayers of my air commuting from Washington to California – every week!