Steve Peacock is a freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in the Tampa Tribune, WND, Drug Enforcement Report, Corrections Journal and the Revered Review. He also is a teacher, storyteller, actor and poet.More ↓Less ↑
Supporters of Barack Obama tout his dedication to the responsibilities of the presidency by noting that he had taken 96 days of vacation at the point in his term that President George W. Bush had taken a reported 335.
But they admit that 51 of Bush’s trips were to his Texas ranch, while records show that Obama’s destinations have ranged from exotic European and African locales to pricey digs to Hawaii, where he’s sometimes traveled separately from his family, effectively doubling transportation costs for taxpayers.
The records released are partial, meaning no firm travel-expense total can be assembled. But individual cases are revealing.
For example, the Washington Post in June revealed the Obama family’s African vacation was slated to cost between $60 million-$100 million, according to a “confidential internal planning document.”
Part of the expense the purchase of nearly 4,000 “room-nights” for one stop in Johannesburg and close to $2 million for car rentals.
The cost of trips that are purely personal, such as daughter Malia Obama’s 2012 spring break trip to Mexico that took $115,500 from the U.S. Treasury, are not always fully disclosed.
And the Obama family has made many trips that are a hybrid of personal and business.
While it seems that members of the media are not generally asking pertinent questions about such travel and expenses, the administration also has provided information on an inconsistent basis.
In some cases, federal entities such as the State Department, which arranges the logistics of executive branch travel, have thwarted efforts to discover more about the government’s accomodations, transportation and related expenses.
Indeed, WND has been waiting more than a year and a half for the State Department to reveal details of a mysterious stay at the super-luxurious Hotel Hessischer Hof in Frankfurt, Germany.
Although State on Nov. 17, 2011, had uploaded to the FedBizOpps database a contract awarded to the hotel for $52,000, it released no details explaining the contract. State acknowledged receiving the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, request, but otherwise has remained silent on the matter.
It remains unclear who may have stayed at the luxury hotel, as the award date is not necessarily indicative of when the government actually used the facility.
Vice President Joseph Biden’s wife, Jill Biden, and Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, traveled to Frankfurt just months prior to the notice. However, there is no record of where they stayed as they cheered for Team USA during the Women’s World Cup Final.
The media lack of interest in pertinent details of administration travel is startling.
“Is the president reading any books on his vacation?” one unidentified reporter asked White House Press Secretary Jay Carney aboard Air Force One as Obama headed to the exclusive Martha’s Vineyard resort scene last summer.
“I expect he will, and I will see what I can find out,” Carney said in response to the softball question. “Most of the many hours I spent with him in the last couple of weeks, when he’s been reading, he’s been reading briefing materials.”
While it often takes FOIA requests and lawsuits to obtain information about the vacations of POTUS (president of the United States), FLOTUS (first lady) and VPOTUS (vice president), CNN’s “The Situation Room” with Wolf Blitzer earlier this year tooted its own horn for purportedly finding a seemingly once-in-a-lifetime document about such trips.
CNN bragged about its supposed findings in the broadcast version of the report. In contrast, the online text version deferred, erroneously, to the Weekly Standard for breaking the story – even though U.S. Trade & Aid Monitor (with which this writer is affiliated) reported on the Biden trip Feb. 23, nearly a month ahead of either media outlet.
In that report, it was revealed the State Department spent $585,000 on hotel rooms and racked up $322,000 on intra-country transportation costs.
Blitzer, nonetheless, expressed wonder at CNN’s supposedly “rare” uncovering of detailed documents specific to VPOTUS Biden’s one-day jaunt to Paris.
Blitzer went so far as to claim he had never seen such information in the seven years he had covered the White House.
Keilar added that she personally conducted a search of the FedBizOpps contractor database. Data on the publicly accessible source was limited to Biden accommodations specific to the Parisian trip and a corresponding stop in London, she claimed.
“We’re getting an extremely, extremely rare glimpse at how much it costs when Vice President Joe Biden goes traveling,” Blitzer proclaimed in the broadcast. “Brianna, we’ve covered a lot of presidential and vice presidential trips, but this is pretty amazing.”
“It kind of makes you wonder if this information was put out accidentally,” Keilar later said. “I did a search myself of the past 365 days where obviously the president and vice president have gone on other foreign trips and I could find no contracts in addition for any of those visits.”
An immediate follow-up search by this writer – followed up by a more recent search by WND – revealed that Keilar either did not actually look or, at the very least, did not look closely at the records.
Also readily available were hotel and transportation records of the Obama and Biden trip to Colombia that year – the scandal-plagued journey to South America in which Secret Service agents were caught patronizing prostitutes while guarding the president.
The trip called for the rental of 1,046 hotel rooms at 13 separate establishments in and around Cartegena, Colombia, where the sixth annual Summit of the Americas took place.
While the overall cost to taxpayers is unknown, the rooms and cars alone cost nearly $1 million.
A simple keyword search using terms such a “POTUS,” “VPOTUS” and “presidential” quickly turn up the records, which separately include the cost of hotels and limos as well as a “justification for other than full and open competition” document governing State’s selection of vendors.
Conservative media generally have acknowledged that Bush took more vacation days than Obama but argue that he often did so at his own expense and at personal or family owned locations, where at times he hosted world leaders.
Left-leaning media have retorted that – despite taking 51 of those trips to his Texas ranch – Bush had vacationed for a total of 335 days, contrasted to Obama’s 96 days at a similar point in his second term.
The Washingtonian earlier this year conducted a profile on Mark Knoller, CBS News correspondent and “unofficial White House statistician,” to find out more about presidential facts in general.
It attempted to glean critical statistics from Knoller by posing questions, for instance, about Obama’s dog, Bo, including how many times the pet had been aboard the president’s helicopter, Marine One.
According to the article, Knoller admitted that despite the voluminous tidbits of data that he has amassed, he had no knowledge of Bo’s flight information.
Despite its discovery, the Post at times appeared apologetic, claiming that “the preparations appear to be in line with similar travels in the past,” and that, in advance of the trip, “the federal agencies charged with keeping him safe won’t be taking any chances.”
WND separately located numerous procurement documents detailing some expenses for the Obamas’ African travel and accommodations. Though the administration in late September and early October posted records for the Obama’s stay in South Africa, it did not disclose records for their stay in Senegal and Tanzania.
It cost an estimated $550,000 to house a “Senior High Level USG [U.S. government] Principal” at the Radisson Blu Sandton in Johannesburg, South Africa,” whom the document did not explicitly identify – despite the FedBizOpps page referring to the procurement as “POTUS Accommodation.”
The no-bid justification called for “2,200 lodging room nights” for this unnamed official for “June 12, 2013-July 11, 2013.”
Separately, it cost another $500,000 for “1,700 lodging room nights” during the same period at the Table Bay Hotel overlooking Cape Town Harbor.
Despite the documents’ secretive nature, even the White House made no secret about the POTUS/FLOTUS hybrid vacation and official business visit to Africa during that period, as Michelle Obama kept an online journal about their journey across the continent.
The U.S. Department of State made arrangements with multiple transportation vendors for the South African presidential visit that totaled close to $2 million.
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said at the time, “The American people can ill afford to keep sending the first family on vacations around the globe. There needs to be greater sensitivity to the costs borne by taxpayers for these personal trips.
“It is hypocritical for President Obama to fire GSA officials for wasteful conference spending, while his family went on a luxury vacation in the Costa del Sol Spain that cost taxpayers nearly half-a-million dollars.”
Judicial Watch also has filed FOIA requests for, among others records, information about President Obama’s trip to Palm Springs, Fla., and “the simultaneous vacations of Michelle Obama and Joseph Biden in Aspen, Colorado.”
Although other publicly accessible records do not necessarily address presidential vacation-specific trips, they do indeed shed light on the cost of such standard globe-trotting in general.
Despite some gaps in the Obama trip record, a comprehensives search of FedBizOpps produces multiple records on the current administration’s travels.
On the other hand, it produces zero records for the George W. Bush administration, despite the database’s voluminous provision of federal procurement information extending back to the William Jefferson Clinton administration.
The following list offers a chronological record of what is publicly and readily available about the cost of Obama and Biden trips on primarily official business.
Obama’s 2009 trip to Germany included an estimated cost of $272,976 for rooms at Hotel Leonardo Weimar.
It took an additional $533,585 on that same journey for presidential accommodations – rooms, office space and parking spaces – at the Hotel Tascshenbergpalais Kampinski in Dresden.
One travel blogger describes the German luxury facility as a “Distinguished and elegantly restored 214-room hotel housed in the resurrected ruins of an 18th-century royal baroque palace, in the heart of a historic district adjacent to the famous Semperoper and Zwinger palace complex.”
Obama, during his re-election campaign several years later, praised his union supporters in Ohio while on the re-election campaign trail because, he said, “It is unions like yours that helped to forge the basic bargain of this country – the bargain that built the greatest middle class and the most prosperous country and the most prosperous economy that the world has ever known.”
Part of that union bargain includes the ability of workers to save enough money to retire and take “maybe a vacation once in a while – nothing fancy, but you can enjoy your friends and your family.” Presumably that bargain does not include vacations in European palaces.
Due to “unusual and compelling circumstances,” the State Department awarded an approximately $3 million no-bid contract to secure rooms at Pittsburgh’s Omni William Penn Hotel and the Hilton Pittsburgh Hotel “to meet housing and security requirements for POTUS staff and DoS [Department of State] senior-level support staff” for Obama’s visit to the G20 Summit.
The contract arranged housing for about “1,000 officials and support staff from September 1, 2009 through September 26, 2009″ needing close access to the David Lawrence Convention Center, where the Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors, or G20, event was held.
Obama’s trip to France to commemorate the Normandy D-Day invasion cost $870,868 for single rooms, suites and control rooms at the Hotel Westin in Paris between May 25 and June 8, 2009.
It cost another $343,643 for additional rooms at the Mercure Omaha Beach and four other hotels in the region from May 24 to June 7.
The president in 2010 traveled to Prague to sign a nuclear arms-reduction treaty with then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
The trip led to an $811,000 bill at the Hotel Hilton Prague for 1,533 single-room, single-occupancy room nights, 13 single-room, double-occupancy room nights, 64 suite room nights, 248 single offices, 12 suite offices, one “special use of an elevator, 100 late check-out fees [and] 126 room-emptying fees.”
Related accommodations at the Hotel Marriott B.H. Centrum in the Czech Republic fetched an estimated $163,000 for 287 single room nights and various conference rooms, electronic devices and late check-out fees.
Driving first lady Michelle Obama and other VIPs around Denmark to lobby – unsuccessfully – the International Olympics Committee to choose Chicago as the site of the 2016 Olympics was a boon for Copenhagen Limousine Services in 2009, which received an estimated $212,449 payment for its services.
The U.S. Department of State, however, did not release those records until 2010.
Judicial Watch separately uncovered an additional $467,175 in expenses related to the arrival of the president and his entourage. The group included Valerie Jarrett, a Chicago political hack who needed an “ethics waiver” to serve as Obama’s “Olympics czar” on behalf of Chicago, the group said. The president arrived in the Denmark capital toward the end of that campaign.
The president and his staff also rented 90 rooms at Scandic Palace, Scandic Copenhagen and Scandic Front hotels ($1 million) and another 70 rooms at Scandic Syhavn ($195,183).
Additional records include:
The Warsaw, Poland, rental of 2,114 lodging room/nights cost $454,000 for an Obama stay May 27 and May 28, 2011, at the Warsaw Marriott Hotel as part of his multi-state trip to visit the leaders and citizens of England, France, Ireland and Poland.
Obama presented himself to the British people as “the grandson of a Kenyan who served as a cook in the British army,” while in Ireland he “drank a beer with the residents of Moneygall, birthplace of his maternal great-great-great-grandfather,” the Washington Post reported.
Oct. 28, 2010 – Nov. 11, 2010: Presidential visit to New Delhi, India, required 134 rooms and conference facilities at Taj Palace Hotel, cost: $203,853.
November 2010: Presidential stay at Shangri-La Hotel, Jakarta, Indonesia, requiring 450 sleeping rooms, offices and one-day ballroom rental, cost: $700,000.
August 2011: VPOTUS trip to China, Japan and Mongolia. Records available only for 1,601 room nights and conference rooms at Hotel Okura Tokyo, cost: $477,301.
May 26-27, 2011: G8 conference, Deuville, France, 3,498 hotel accommodations for POTUS at 10 different hotels, cost: $2 million. Estimated transportation package with Biribin Limousines: $992,400-$2,857,150.
Dec. 2-3, 2011: VPOTUS trip to Istanbul, Turkey, $475,000 for 218 rooms.
Feb. 21, 2012-March 8, 2012: VPOTUS trip to Mexico City, requiring 919 hotel room nights at Inmobiliaria Nacional Mexicana (Four Seasons Hotel), cost: $348,936.
March 13, 2012 to March 28, 2012: POTUS hotel room rental at Grand Hyatt Hotel for Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea. Designated a “sensitive/secure package” and locked. Cost undisclosed.
June 2012 (specific rental dates not provided): POTUS attendance at G20 Summit, Los Cabos, Mexico. Estimated hotel room cost (through travel agency Turismo y Convenciones): $1,889,388-$2,078,327. Vehicle rentals (via Operadora Transtur): $630,760-$693,836.
November 2012 (specific rental dates not provided): Obama visit to Phnomn Penh, Cambodia. Raffles Hotel Royale; 895 room nights and several conference rooms. Cost: $400,000. Another 1,010 room nights at Sunway Hotel for an additional $400,000.
August 22, 2013: Presidential trip to Stockholm, Sweden. Total number of rooms: 121. Grand Hotel Stockholm and Lydmar Hotel. Estimated cost: $112,190 -$246,230.
The most recently published presidential travel records offer limited access.
Full records for Obama’s travel to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC 2013, conference in Indonesia are not currently accessible.
Records exist under the headers of “Cargo trucks to support POTUS visits” and “Passenger car rental services for APEC 2013, Bali, Indonesia.”
Partial records come up during a search of FedBizOpps, but the entire package remains marked as “sensitive,” thereby requiring site registration.
Although this writer is a registered and validated user of the FedBizOpps and System for Award Management, or SAM, access remains blocked, with the error message “SAM Validation Required” popping up when the APEC records list appears during a database search.
Records of the presidential stay at Yokohama Grand InterContinental Hotel in Japan for APEC 2010 likewise are only partially accessible – and for some reason the three-year-old records remain marked as “sensitive.”