Aloha Obamas! First Family's Vacation Comes to an End, but Taxpayers Left with Hefty Bill
While the Obamas were in the islands, they visited the grave of Stanley Dunham, President Obama's grandfather, at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific and an exhibit at the East West Center that featured work of Stanley Ann Dunham, the president's deceased mother.
The family also stopped at the President's favorite Kailua shave ice store, Island Snow, and the President played golf with his friends at Mid Pacific Country Club in Kailua and at Ko'olau Golf Course, one of the world's most challenging courses, in Kaneohe.
The President and Michelle Obama also visited with US troops stationed in Hawaii on Christmas Day at the Kaneohe Marine Corps Base, located just two minutes away from their multi-million dollar Kailua beachfront home rental.
The President was criticized last month for skipping the Pearl Harbor 70th anniversary events remembering the 2,400 Americans who died during the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor - several of the Pearl Harbor survivors gathered at Pearl Harbor for one last time - but the President and his wife Michelle took time out to lay a wreath there three days ago.
Steffan Tubbs, a talk show host in Denver, Colorado and a board member with the Greatest Generation Foundation who was in Honolulu for the December 7 tribute, earlier criticized the President in Hawaii Reporter noting: "There were thousands of people in attendance at the Pearl Harbor remembrance, yet President Barack Obama – born just a few miles from the USS Arizona memorial – was not only a no-show, but did not bother to send a written or videotaped greeting thanks to these men," Tubbs said. He also noted Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was a no show, even though his bio and picture were listed in the program and he was scheduled to deliver remarks in person.
Parts of Kailua, a laid back beach front community on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, has been under lock down since the Obamas arrived. U.S. Coast Guard boats have guarded the canal and ocean front surrounding the Kailuana Place home and residents on Kailuana Place and Kailuana Loop have had to endure extensive Secret Service searches for themselves and pre-registered guests just to get to their homes.
While many Hawaii residents were pleased the Obamas chose to vacation here - the President is still popular in the state where he lived through high school - their time in the islands came with a steep price for taxpayers.
The total cost (based on what is known) for the 17-day vacation roundtrip vacation to Hawaii for the President, his family, security and staff climbed to more than $4 million. Hawaii Reporter research shows the total cost for the President’s visit for taxpayers far exceeded $1.5 million in 2010 – but was even more costly this year because the family extended their vacation by three days and the cost for Air Force One travel has jumped since last assessed in 2000.
- 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 to Hawaii was not made available. However, the flight time between Andrews Air Force Base and Hawaii is at about 21.5 hours roundtrip, with estimated operating cost of $12,000 per hour. (Source: GAO report, updated by C-17 crew member). 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. That is $258,000, not including costs for the 4 to 6 member crew's per diem and hotel.
- 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 stayed there this year as well. 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. Hotel spokeswoman Marsha Weinert said she could "neither confirm nor deny" the president's staff is staying there. 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.
- City officials have not yet totaled the bill for local taxpayers for police enforcement and ambulance service for this trip.
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 $4,113,038.
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. A spokesperson for the White House said the cost is "in line" with other presidents.
Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s has been vacationing at a resort on another island, Hawaii Island.
Pelosi spent at least the last three holiday vacations in Kona at the same hotel, The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai.
While she is here, Pelosi, like the Obamas, was escorted by secret service and local police.
Over the last two years, Hawaii county taxpayers paid more than $34,000 for local police to escort Pelosi.
Oahu taxpayers paid for local police overtime for the president’s security at a cost of about $250,000 a year.
Police on Oahu and Hawaii Island have not yet released the cost for security and overtime.
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