(Alexandria, VA) - Whatever diplomatic goals he may have wanted to achieve at the NATO Summit in Lisbon this past weekend, President Barack Obama reached at least one milestone: with this trip he has spent more days out of the country than any other President during his first two years in office. This is just one of many findings – including a major update on the operating costs of Air Force One – from a National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF) study on Presidential travel released today.
(Click here to read the full report.)
“Besides avoiding obvious inconveniences like long lines and pat-downs at airports, Presidents have an often-unseen army – and air force – to help them travel,” said NTUF Senior Policy Analyst and study author Demian Brady. “Although many of these trips involve necessary duties of the Chief Executive, Presidents are going abroad with increasing frequency, all at an increasing but ultimately unknown cost to taxpayers.”
Brady painstakingly sifted through State Department data, White House communiqués, and other sources to conduct comparisons of the current and past Presidents’ trips overseas. Among his findings:
- President Obama has made 15 trips and visited 26 countries (eight of them more than once), over a period of 55 total days during his first two years in office. This tops the previous record of 54 days abroad set by President George H. W. Bush for two years. At this rate, by 2012 Obama would rack up 110 foreign travel days – also surpassing the elder Bush’s record for a one-term President (102 days over four years).
- Overall, Bill Clinton remains the most-traveled President. During eight years in office, he made 55 total trips and spent 233 days abroad. He was out of the country 29.1 days per year. The second most-traveled President is George W. Bush. During his two terms he took 49 trips and was abroad 215 days, or 26.9 days per year.
- Although some commentators have said President Obama’s recent trips provide a timely distraction for disappointing election results, the month of November after mid-term elections has been a popular travel time for Presidents. All three of Obama’s predecessors have done so.
The author also tackled the toughest question of all surrounding Presidential travel: the total tab for taxpayers. One surprising answer he received came after an inquiry he made with the 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews Air Force Base about the cost to fly the modified 747 jet that typically serves as Air Force One. Government and media reports have given varying estimates, as high as $100,219 per hour. In a major coup for public disclosure, Brady confirmed from the Air Force that the cost is much higher: $181,757 per hour, including “fuel, flight consumables, depot level repairables, aircraft overhaul and engine overhaul.”
While Brady completely debunked rumors that Obama’s recent Asia journey cost taxpayers $200 million per day, he noted that federal officials have refused to provide any details on the actual expenses that were incurred. Air Force One’s flight costs are only a small part of the Presidential travel package, which incorporates advance teams, back-up aircraft, diplomatic staff, motorcades, security, and much more. He contends that even though the subject is always politically charged, Congressional Democrats and Republicans now have a post-election “window” within which they could work toward better cost disclosure.
“Thanksgiving travelers know how much they’re paying for their airline tickets and other expenses, and as taxpayers they likewise deserve to know how much they’re paying to send the President overseas,” Brady concluded. “Only then can they have a rational conversation about whether the pomp of Presidential travel is worth the price.”
NTUF is the research and educational affiliate of the 362,000-member National Taxpayers Union, a non-profit citizen group. Note: NTUF Issue Brief 161, Incredible Journey: How Barack Obama Became the Most-Traveled President His First Two Years in Office, is available online at www.ntu.org.