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Robert M. Gates, who retired this year, maintained a remote lakeside home in Washington state, which he visited several times a year but not most weekends. Donald H. Rumsfeld, who held the job before Mr. Gates, had three homes — one in Taos, N.M., one in Illinois and another in St. Michaels on Maryland’s Eastern Shore — all equipped with secure communication equipment and additional security measures. He spent most of his weekends or breaks in Washington, D.C., or at his St. Michaels escape, according to knowledgeable GOP aides.

At least one other member of the president’s Cabinet, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, spends most of his weekends commuting outside Washington, but he does so on his own dime and uses commercial aircraft. Mr. Geithner and his family moved to New York in August, and he travels back most weekends, his spokesman said.

Mr. Panetta and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano are required to use government aircraft even for personal travel.