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Issue Brief


Travel Study Update: President Obama is Most Internationally Traveled President through 5 Years

March 24, 2014
By Michael Tasselmyer

The President is overseas once again, this time for a rapid-fire trip to Europe and the Middle East, with plans to visit five countries in five days: the Netherlands, Belgium, Vatican City, Italy, and Saudi Arabia. Ahead of the trip, we here at National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF) are taking a moment to update our ongoing Presidential travel research to give taxpayers an idea of how often the President is going abroad using taxpayer dollars, and how that compares to past Chief Executive travels.

When we released our last major update of Presidential travel in June of 2013, Barack Obama was scheduled to make at least two international trips in the final six months of the year. Now that the calendar has turned and his trips are officially in the books, the final count stands at:
  • Days abroad: 24
  • Countries visited: 13
  • Trips taken: 6
Over the last half of the year, the President made two trips, though only one of those was scheduled at the time of our last report.

In September, Mr. Obama spent three days abroad as he visited Russia and Sweden to meet with those countries' respective leaders.
He was originally scheduled to spend 8 days in October visiting Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Brunei as part of the 2013 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference. However, those plans were cancelled when the federal government shut down during debates. An impromptu December trip to South Africa to pay respects to the late Nelson Mandela wrapped up the Prsident's international travels for the year.

The table below shows how President Obama's fifth year stacks up against those of other Presidents' in terms of total trips, days spent abroad, countries visited, and the average length of those trips.

travel2

The data also show that President Obama has taken more trips and spent more time abroad after five years in office than any other modern president. The table below shows the cumulative totals through 2013.

5yr

At least one travel trend from the President’s first term seems to be carrying over into his second: while he is taking slightly higher number of total trips abroad than his two most recent predecessors, those trips have been shorter, on average. Our report last summer showed that over the course of his first term, President Obama spent about 3.8 days abroad per trip, fewer than any modern president since Johnson. That pattern seems to have carried over into his fifth year in office, where he spent fewer days abroad per trip than George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon before him.

Obama’s Euro-Trip Air Force One Flights Cost over $6.6 Million

The most internationally well-traveled President, through five years, is also flying the most expensive-to-operate Air Force One to date.

As reported in the Washington Examiner last month, new records obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request show that it cost about $228,288 per flight hour to operate Air Force One in FY 2013. That figure represents a 27 percent increase from the previously confirmed $179,750 cost that NTUF used in our last study of Presidential Travel.

Taken on its own, the $48,535 jump may not sound all that significant. However, when trips are many thousands of miles and span several time zones and continents, the difference can quickly add up.

For example, the President’s current European trip will likely involve about 29 hours of total travel time, assuming a cruising speed of 575 mph between Washington, Amsterdam, Brussels, Rome, and Riyadh, and then back to D.C. Using the previous estimate, the total cost of flying Air Force One between those international cities would be about $5,212,750. Using the new data, the cost comes out to $6,620,352.

While these figures are approximations, and do not account for the additional (and likely greater) expenses of transporting the President’s Secret Service and diplomatic entourage, backup aircraft, land vehicles, and advance security teams, it goes to show that higher Air Force One operational costs substantially change the budgetary magnitude of these trips.