Contradicting an account by a Pentagon official, the White House is denying that President Obama struck a “deal” with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta to allow him to commute home to California most weekends on a military aircraft at a cost of $32,000 per round-trip flight and a total of $860,000 as of early April.
“There’s no deal here,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday when pressed on the issue. “The secretary has addressed the matter. He, I think, spoke about it, and he has decided to try to find a way, if there is, to reduce the cost. But, you know, I don’t have anything to add to it.”
Mr. Carney was responding to a question about whether the White House or Mr. Obama had negotiated with Mr. Panetta to allow the California commuting arrangement before Mr. Panetta accepted the Pentagon post.
The defense secretary must use military aircraft for security and communications purposes even during personal travel, but previous defense secretaries have lived in and around the Washington area and did not regularly travel across the country.
Earlier this week, Mr. Panetta said he regrets the cost of the commute and will try to find a way to economize in the future, but he still maintained that the trips home to his family’s walnut ranch in Monterey, Calif., are important.
“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 Monday at the Pentagon.
In November of last year, The Washington Times reported that at that point Mr. Panetta had flown home 14 times, continuing the cross-country trips he made regularly as CIA director, and had no plans to rein in the expensive travel.
Mr. Panetta is required to repay just a fraction of the costs — the equivalent of a commercial round-trip ticket — for the personal travel, according to federal rules.
“The White House understood when Mr. Panetta took the job that he would return to Monterey 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.”
Amid outcry over wasteful spending at a General Services Administration conference that cost top officials their jobs, Mr. Panetta earlier this month admitted to paying just $17,000 for his share of the cost of the 27 round trips, approximately $630 per visit.
The defense secretary’s travel costs have attracted additional scrutiny after Mr. Obama in November asked his Cabinet members to cut back on all expenses, from cellphone use to official gifts such as pencils and mugs to travel costs.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
Susan Crabtree is an award-winning investigative reporter with more than 15 years of reporting experience in Washington, D.C. Her reporting about bribery, corruption and conflict-of-interest issues on Capitol Hill has led to several FBI and ethics investigations, as well as consequences for members within their caucuses and at the ballot box. Susan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
'Your papers, please' must never be heard in America
Independent voices from the TWT Communities
“Right Angles” explores serious subjects, such as the Islamization of the Middle East and delegitimization of Israel, with humor, candor and a twist.
News and reviews of notable museums, and exhibits, and art events.
When you need to know who is making business, and what business is being made, you need the Business Browser.
From raising children to identifying educational and service options for your children, Speaking of Family is where you can write...
Benghazi: The anatomy of a scandal
Vietnam Memorial adds four names
Cinco de Mayo on the Mall