KAILUA – Aloha, U.S. Secret Service – you’ve been served. About those vacations to Hawaii, we want to know how much they’re costing taxpayers.
Judicial Watch Inc., a nonpartisan Washington DC-based organization that focuses on transparency and accountability in government, filed the lawsuit on May 6 to obtain financial records from U.S. Secret Service related to the first family’s Hawaiian vacations.
Hawaii Reporter and Watchdog.org has sought this information since 2008, when the first family and their entourage began traveling annually to Hawaii during the Christmas and New Year holidays.
The family and their friends, we’ve learned pay for the vacation rentals, yet the cost to taxpayers for travel on Air Force One, accommodations for staff and security and local police and ambulance detail exceed $4 million per trip.
The organization filed the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit — Judicial Watch v. U.S. Secret Service – against the U.S. Secret Service to obtain records related to the use of taxpayer money to provide “security and/or any other services to President Obama and any companions on their January 1 and 2, 2013, trip to Honolulu, Hawaii.”
The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The lawsuit follows an attempt by the organization on Jan. 2 to obtain the information through a Freedom of Information Act request.
According to Judicial Watch, the U.S. Secret Service acknowledged the agency received the request Jan. 31, and by law, is required to determine whether to comply with the FOIA request within 20 days and notify Judicial Watch by Feb. 11.
As of May 6, the Secret Service produced no records and has failed to follow up on the request.
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said, “President Obama is not king and his administration should stop ignoring the FOIA open records law and account to the American people the spending on his luxury vacations.”
Keith Koffler, a veteran White House reporter, wrote in a column Jan. 4 that the “total cost to taxpayers of Obama’s vacations to Hawaii since becoming president is likely in excess of $20 million, and possibly much, much more.”
Hawaii Reporter’s detailed cost breakdown of the first family’s trips to Hawaii in 2009, 2010, and 2011, that piqued the interest of Judicial Watch, a statement said.
Much of the vacation cost, as Hawaii reported noted, is attributed to the expense of taking Air Force One — which costs about $180,000 an hour — on the 18-hour journey to Honolulu and back. During the 2012 Christmas holiday, the president made two round trips to Hawaii via Air Force One within a matter of days bringing the total for his air travel to more than $6.4 million.
“The Obamas’ opulent vacation lifestyle is particularly objectionable during a time when government debt is out of control,” Fitton added.
- Obamas arrive in Hawaii aboard Air Force One (AP Photo)
Hawaii Reporter’s coverage has also included estimates from experts of the cost for:
- USAF C-17 cargo aircraft that transports the presidential limos, helicopters and other support equipment to Hawaii — flight time between Andrews Air Force Base and Hawaii is at about 21.5 hours roundtrip, with GAO’s estimated operating cost of $12,000 per hour.
- The Marine Corps presidential helicopter, along with pilots and support crews for the test flights, which travel on a C-17 flight. That is $258,000, not including costs for the 4 to 6 member crew’s per diem and hotel.
- Cost for housing U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Coast Guard and Navy Seals in beachfront and canal front homes, about $200 per night for each person on protective detail.
- Accommodations for the first family’s staff at the Moana Surfrider in Waikiki, where rooms start around $270 a night.
- Honolulu Police Department officers are paid over time for the president’s visit, which has historically cost Oahu taxpayers $250,000; and the city ambulance the accompanies the president 24 hours a day through his entire visit is about $10,000 to city taxpayers.
The White House annually refuses to disclose the cost for several things, including a floor in the office building in Kailua on the canal during the president’s stay; security upgrades and additional phone lines to several private homes where Obama and friends are staying; installation of bullet proof glass and the disabling of home security systems, additional phone lines added, cost of car rentals and fuel for White House staff staying at a Waikiki Hotel, and additional travel costs Secret Service and White House staff traveling ahead of the president.
Judicial Watch has been successful in obtaining the records of other first family vacations since Obama took office — vacations, the organization said, “have come at great costs to taxpayers.”
Some of the costs include:
- $467,555 for First Lady Michelle Obama’s trip to Spain in August 2010; she brought multiple friends and one of her daughters.
- $424,142 for Michelle Obama’s trip with her daughters and staff June 21 to 27, 2011, to South Africa and Botswana.
- $83,182.99 for Michelle Obama’s trip with her daughters and staff over President’s Day weekend in February 2012, to Aspen, Colo.