A lot of people aren’t happy about the government is spending taxpayer money. Just recently, we’ve seen a reporter question the First Family’s “jetting around” on vacations — and, of course, there’s the GSA scandal. Now we can add Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to the list. On Monday, Panetta said he “regrets” that his weekend trips to his California home have been added to the taxpayers’ tab.
According to the Associated Press, “the Pentagon says it costs about $3,200 per flight hour to operate the small plane he usually uses for the 10-hour round trip” — putting the cost of one round trip visit at about $32,000. From the AP:
“I regret that it does, you know, that it does add costs that the taxpayer has to pick up,” Panetta said during a Pentagon briefing Monday, speaking publicly for the first time about the flight costs. “A taxpayer would have to pick up those costs with any secretary of state or secretary of defense. But having said that, I am trying to look at what are … the alternatives here that I can look at that might possibly be able to save funds and, at the same time, be able to fulfill my responsibilities, not only to my job, but to my family.”
The Associated Press earlier this month detailed the costs of the 27 roundtrip flights home Panetta has taken since he became Pentagon chief last July, as well as the amount he has reimbursed the government for the trips.
Panetta, who is required to travel on military aircraft, has “reimbursed the Treasury about $17,000 for the travel, based on a government formula, or about $630 per round trip.” The total cost of his trips, including fuel and other operating expenses, have cost the government as much as $860,000. Typically, “Panetta flies on an Air Force C-37 — somewhat comparable to a Gulfstream jet — which is the lowest-cost aircraft that can carry the necessary communications equipment.”
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came to Panetta’s defense:
“Let me help the boss here, because if I couldn’t get a hold of him, we’d have a really different relationship,” said Dempsey, adding that Panetta “doesn’t get much rest in California, based on the number of times I know that I’m in contact with him.”
He also noted that Panetta often couples his trip home with visits to military bases. “This is not about him just using that airplane to get himself back and forth to the West Coast every weekend.”
On nine occasions so far, Panetta has scheduled domestic trips to bases and other events on Thursdays and Fridays, allowing him to travel part way across the country for business, then fly the rest of the way to California for the weekend. In those cases he reimburses the government for the difference between the cost of the full trip minus the cost of flying directly to the base or official event location and back to Washington.
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