After two items last week on the cost of lodging for Vice President Biden's early February trip to Europe, other news organizations began to investigate further. Wolf Blitzer's The Situation Room on CNN uncovered a contract apparently also related to the same visit to Paris:
Also on the receipt was $321,665 for a limousine company.
Although CNN did not link to the document, the notice of the contract award for the limousine service was posted on the same government website as the hotel contracts. Oddly, the "Contract Award Date" is listed as 2012, but this seems to simply be a typo:
The CNN report went on to explain that, just as other government and former government officials had opined about the hotel costs, the limousine costs did not seem out of the ordinary:
As for the limousine to travel around Paris, the former advance official said that goes for the motor pool.
The vice president's limo is flown in, but staff members on the trip didn't take the Metro around. They're not allowed to drive themselves and tend to book normal cars and drivers with the motor company-but don't necessarily take limousines. The $321,665 figure in Paris sounded about right, that former official said.
The peculiarity pointed out by the CNN report and by Wolf Blitzer himself, based on his years reporting on the White House, is that these contracts are publicly available at all. A search of the government website in question reveals very few other contracts related to the travels of the president or vice president. However, another one of those rare finds also involves limousine service for a trip to France, this one from November 2011 when President Obama travelled to the G20 Summit in Cannes.
Inexplicably, the contract award amount is listed as only $10,000 which is wildly at odds with the $321,665 for Vice President Biden's trip. However, this listing, unlike the one for the Biden trip, includes an accompanying Justification and Approval document. It reveals that the estimated cost of vehicles and drivers for the president's Cannes visit was $731,938, not to exceed $1.4 million:
The president was in France for less than 36 hours.
Note: This article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.
Obviously, the high cost of overseas travel for government officials is nothing new, and security measures certainly add to those costs. ABC News, reporting on the Biden hotel costs, interviewed an unnamed State Department official:
“These costs are nothing out of the ordinary. They are in line with high-level travel across multiple administrations,” the State Department official said. ”The contract costs cover the entire range of support, including accommodations for military, communications, secret service staff, and other support professionals. Security experts are also required to travel in advance of the president or vice president. Safety and security are not negotiable.”
Security concerns notwithstanding, the first sentence of that response should strike fear in the hearts (and wallets) of taxpayers everywhere. "These costs are nothing out of the ordinary." If only they were. Instead of the apoplectic response of many citizens, our government officials greeted the news with a collective yawn. Perhaps the light these contracts are shining on this largely hidden expenditures will help bring about some true austerity to our profligate federal government.