With more vacation days and separate travel, cost of President Obama’s annual Hawaiian holiday rises
Published: December 18th, 2011
KAILUA, OAHU (Hawaii, December 16) – The U.S. Secret Service has arrived, street barricades are in place, and the U.S. Coast Guard has stationed itself in the waters surrounding Kailua, Oahu. That is a sure sign President Barack Obama’s security team is preparing for the first family to arrive in the small beach side community as early as Friday night for what is expected to be a 17-day vacation.
The President and his family are traveling separately to Hawaii because he wants to resolve the payroll tax cut issue before leaving Washington – and his wife does not want to wait.
But the advanced trip and the cost that comes with it – as much as $100,000 (flight and security) – adds to an already expensive vacation for the taxpayers.
Hawaii Reporter research shows the total cost for the President’s visit for taxpayers far exceeded $1.5 million in 2010 – but is even more costly this year because he extended his vacation by three days and the cost for Air Force One travel has jumped since last assessed in 2000. In addition, Hawaii Reporter was able to obtain more specifics about the executive expenditures.
The total cost (based on what is known) for the 17-day vacation roundtrip vacation to Hawaii for the President, his family and staff has climbed to more than $4 million. Here’s why.
The biggest expense is President Barack Obama’s round trip flight to Hawaii via Air Force One, a cost the GAO office estimated at $1 million in the year 2000. Contacted today, the GAO confirmed there is no report the independent office affiliated with Congress has prepared since 2000 to operate Air Force One and Air Force Two.
However, the U.S. Air Force provides the most current numbers of $181,757 per flight hour. Travel time for Air Force One direct from Washington D.C. to Hawaii is about 9 hours or $1,635,813 each way for a total of $3,271,622 for the round trip to Hawaii and back.
The cost for USAF C-17 cargo aircraft that transports the Presidential limos, helicopters and other support equipment is not available to the public. However, the flight time between Andrews Air Force Base and Hawaii is at about 20 hours roundtrip, with estimated operating cost of $7,000 per hour (GAO report) for a total of $140,000 per roundtrip. The United States Marine Corps provides a presidential helicopter, along with pilots and support crews for the test flights, which travel on another C-17 flight at $140,000 for a total of $280,000.
Mrs. Obama’s early flight to Hawaii costs about $63,000 (White House Dossier), but add security and personnel for a total of about $100,000.
The President and his family pay for their own beachfront rental (they are not staying in the Winter White House this year but rather a house on the same street further to the ocean point).
The Kailua rentals are fronted by the ocean and backed by a canal. So, the taxpayers must cover the costs for housing U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Coast Guard and Navy Seals in beach front and canal front homes in Kailua.
That costs about $1,200 a day ($200 allocated per bedroom per day). Since security arrives one day early, homes are rented for 18 days. That is about $21,600 per home for approximately 7 houses rented at a total cost of $151,200 for security to stay nearby.
The president’s staff and White House Press Corps stay at one of Hawaii’s oldest and most elegant hotels, the Moana Surfrider. Hawaii Reporter confirmed they are again staying there this year. Besides its stunningly beautiful view of Waikiki, and its traditional architecture, it is one of the most pricey hotels in the state.
Government rates are $177 per night, but that only is available during certain times a year.
Rooms typically start at $250 but can cost on average as much as $450 a night, and are even higher during the holidays. A hotel spokesperson did not return calls to confirm the rate the White House received.
A conservative estimate with rooms at the government rate of $177 per day (excluding a 9.25 percent Transient Accommodation Tax and a 4.712 percent General Excise Tax on each bill, meals, internet charges and other charges) means the taxpayers are covering more than $72,216 in hotel bills for an estimated 24 staff.
LOCAL TAXPAYER COSTS: $260,000
Local police over time for the president’s visit has historically cost Oahu taxpayers $250,000 but may be more expensive this year with the extended vacation.
The city ambulance the accompanies the president 24 hours a day through his entire visit is $10,000, according to city spokeswoman Louise Kim McCoy.
There are several costs the White House annually refuses to release, citing security.
•For example, the president’s security usually rents an entire floor of an office building in Kailua on the canal during the president’s stay.
•There are security upgrades and additional phone lines to several private homes where Obama and friends are staying. That includes bullet proof glass installed, home security systems disabled, new security measures put into place and additional phone lines added.
•There is the cost for car rentals and fuel for White House staff staying at Moana Hotel.
•And there are additional travel costs Secret Service and White House staff traveling ahead of the President.
The total cost (based on what is known) for a 17-day round trip vacation to Hawaii for the President and his family and staff and security is an estimated $4,135,038.
Hawaii Reporter annually has requested details on the cost of the President’s trip, but the White House will not release any figures, citing security concerns. A spokesperson has maintained the costs are “in line” with other presidential vacations.
Hawaii Reporter has sought to determine the cost of vacations for the current president and last two presidents but the Government Accountability Office was able to provide those costs and referred Hawaii Reporter back to the White House spokesperson.
Editor’s Note: Malia Zimmerman is editor of Hawaii Reporter, an online news website, and an occasional contributor to CapitolBeatOK.com