Panetta leaves big bill as he flies away

Taxes paid for weekly trips to California

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“I think it’s important to get out of Washington,” he said. “The problem with Washington is that you can become very confined. You lose perspective. And throughout my career, I’ve always thought it was important to get a chance to just be just another citizen, because of that, in a very important way, energizes you to be able to come back and make the kind of decisions you have to make.”

According to the NPR report, Mr. Panetta always set his watch three hours early — on California time.

Mr. Panetta’s repeated arguments about the need to get away from the daily environment and rigors of the job has offended some active-duty servicemen who have endured repeated deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, although they said so only privately out of fear of reprisal.

Tough answers

The Defense Department at first refused to provide information about Mr. Panetta’s reimbursements. Subsequent Freedom of Information Act requests for receipts of the reimbursements directed to the Air Force, the Treasury Department and the Pentagon were rerouted and delayed repeatedly.

In April last year, amid fallout over a lavish General Services Administration conference that cost top officials at the agency their jobs, Mr. Panetta’s office told The Associated Press that he had paid $17,000 for the cost of 27 trips to California — an average of $630 per trip. But that report did not cite receipts, and the office failed to respond to The Washington Times’ request for copies of the reimbursements.

When asked again Monday for a fuller accounting of the trips, Panetta spokesman George Little said he did not have the information immediately available.

In August, the secretary of defense’s FOIA office sent a formal response to The Times’ request for copies of the reimbursement receipts for the trips, noting that it would be unable to meet the disclosure law’s 20-day statutory time period to respond “as there are unusual circumstances which impact on our ability to quickly process your request.”

Among the “unusual circumstances” the office cited was “the need to search for and collect records from a facility geographically separated from this office,” as well as “the potential volume of records responsive to your request” and “the need for consultation with one or more other agencies or [Department of Defense] components having a substantial interest in either the determination of the subject matter or the records.”

For these reasons, the FOIA office said, the request was placed in “our complex processing queue” and would be handled in the order it was received, behind 1,240 other requests.

On Monday, the officer handling the request said the search for the records was ongoing and he hoped “to establish a more definitive timeline within the next couple of weeks” — long after Mr. Panetta will have left the Pentagon for California permanently.

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