Is Leon Panetta Worried That Cutting Defense Spending Might Reduce His Commuting Budget Below $800,000?

For the past several months - at least since the big fake debt-ceiling deal went even further south, thereby possibly maybe precipitating even the tiniest reduction in the size of defense spending increases - Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his allies in both parties have been screaming bloody murder about the need to keep bumping up defense spending. Increasing real spending since 2001 by over 70 percent? That's called austerity by both Dems and Reps.

Now the Washington Post and the Associated Press adds some context to Panetta's fear factor.

Get this: Since becoming Pentagon chief last July, Panetta has flown back to his home in California 27 times at an estimated cost to taxpayers of over $800,000. But Panetta, who in a previous life "built a reputation as a deficit hawk" and "regrets" the cost. That's nice to hear. Still:

He gave no indication, however, that he would end the weekend commutes.

“For 40 years that I’ve been in this town, I’ve gone home because my wife and family are there and because, frankly, I think it’s healthy to get out of Washington periodically just to get your mind straight and your perspective straight,” said Panetta, who maintains a residence with his wife, Sylvia, on their walnut farm in Monterey, Calif.

Your secretary of defense, ladies and gentleman, a man so single-minded and focused on the tasks at hand that he needs to get away from his colleagues "periodically." By which he means: every weekend.

For security and communications reasons, Panetta has to fly military style, which costs upwards of $3,200 an hour, but he's buying peanuts all around:

The Associated Press reported this month that Panetta had reimbursed the government about $17,000 for 27 personal trips since becoming Pentagon chief. The AP calculated that the expense of operating Panetta’s military aircraft — usually an Air Force C-37A — totaled about $860,000 for those trips.

More here

Over at The Corner, Reason columnist and Mercatus Center economist Veronique de Rugy (who tipped me to this story), noted that the Wash Post's Panetta piece ran adjacent to an article about the ongoing General Services Administration (GSA) Vegas party scandal. That's a revealing juxtaposition, she argues, that tells us something about government spending.

No offense to Mr. Panetta, who for all I know may be a great secretary of defense (in spite of his hysteria over the defense cuts), but I can’t imagine that we couldn’t have found someone locally to do the job. Maybe we could have found someone who was willing to move his family to D.C. even. Or someone who was willing to pay the crazy price of $800,000 for 27 trips to California.

It is important to realize, however, that these examples (GSA and Panetta’s trips home) are the extreme versions of something that happens in government all the time. Government officials, every day, make decisions about how to spend our money on themselves or on others. As Milton Friedman explained, this is a recipe for bad spending — even with the best people with the best intentions working for the government. There is no way around it.

More here.

In a real sense, the scandal is not Panetta's, who also flew home every weekend apparently as the head of the CIA (we didn't know that because his itinerary was secret back then). He's simply bargaining for the deal he wants and plenty of employers make all sorts of deals to get and keep the best employees they can find. More power to employers who tailor work situations and compensation packages to the unique needs of indispensable staffers.

But should the government be shelling out over $800,000 a year for a staffer making $200,000 a year? Is there nobody more qualified than Panetta within, say, an hour's drive of Washington? Is Panetta really at top form while shlepping to and from the coasts every weekend? If the Obama admin couldn't have cut a better deal with freaking Leon Panetta - an American public servant with a reputation for being a fiscal hawk! - does anyone think its gonna be any good at cutting deals with antagonist nations?

I recently saw The Hunger Games, which is set in a future in which vassal states ("districts") give all their resources and money to a centralized government whose leaders and favorites whoop it up on the taxpayers' dime. Does anyone wonder why the movie and the trilogy of books on which it's based are so popular? Maybe Secretary Panetta can read the books tonight on the long flight back to the Golden State.

Back in January, Meredith Bragg and I cobbled together "3 Reasons Conservatives Should Cut Defense Spending Now!" Alas, it seems that the only time that cons or Republicans want to cut spending is it can momentarily discomfit liberals. Well, here you go, fellers.

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  • R C Dean||

    Its perfectly clear:

    These people just don't give a fuck. They are the Master Class. We are the proles. If they want to blow a million of our dollars a year on weekend getaways, well, fuck you.

  • Bucky||

    drink your cool-aid demos and look the other way...
    another Owebama admin. spendthrift lighting cigars and jet-settin' while we bend over at the pumps...

  • DJF||

    4th reason to cut defense spending is that most of the defense spending does not defend the USA. Instead its to defend our allies who then cut their own defense spending and use that money to out compete the USA. Why should US business and labor subsidize the defense of people who they compete against.

    And example is the missile defense system the US taxpayer is going to supply to Europe. Europe does not want to spend money on such a system so why should the US taxpayer do so especially since it does nothing to defend the USA since the missiles cannot intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles heading to the US.

  • wareagle||

    I've had this defense theory for while:
    1) the bases overseas are either paid for by the host countries or we shut them down.
    2) troops in places that ARE closed are redeployed to the Southern border. Nothing spells economic development like tens of thousands of troops in an area that was previously uninhabited.

  • Spoonman.||

    Um, Harlingen, El Paso, San Diego...

  • wareagle||

    those are all good examples. It's just an idea because no one really believes defense is ever going to be seriously cut.

    So, let's either charge the countries whose security you and I provide, or use it to create new SDs or El Pasos. As you point out, the model is already in place.

  • Spoonman.||

    But the southern border is sparsely inhabited because of a lack of water, and most of the extra water they have is used productively for agriculture. I don't think we want a giant boondoggle that will redirect the limited resources of the region towards the military rather than towards productive uses.

  • wareagle||

    just thinking that if we're gonna have this huge military, let's look at some means of making it less costly.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    But the southern border is sparsely inhabited because of a lack of water, and most of the extra water they have is used productively for agriculture.

    The argument that the water allocated in the southwestern regions is being used productively for agriculture is a specious one. Sure, in some areas the overall production is fairly significant, but the fact of the matter is that, even with all the wasteful uses like golf courses and the like, cities use their water far more efficiently on a per capita basis than rural areas do.

    The real issues with water use in the west is delivery and storage, and ultimately, who possesses the rights to the water. Furthermore, it's debatable whether the border towns would even be able to handle the influx of troops that such a redeployment would entail. Larger urban areas like El Paso and San Diego would probably do all right in developing the necessary services and infrastructure, but other areas could become dysfunctional fairly quickly if development doesn't keep up with population growth and the troops dramatically alter the social fabric of the local communities.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    In addition, redeployment along the border would require an enormous investment in MILCON funding, even Congress cuts the manpower billets of all the services. This might help in the short term for construction and various service jobs, but any town that relies on the influx of military dollars to boost its economy needs to look at the long-term impact of such dependance. Given the rapid growth of La Raza-type activism in areas of the southwest such as Tuscon, these installations might even be considered politically untenable to politicians looking to pander to the mestizo vote.

  • James Ard||

    Call me an optimist, but I think we are at the watershed. We are almost at the point of critical mass where America finally gets it; government stinks. Not only do they stink, but they mock us while doing it. A few more stories like this and it will be like the Queensland election a couple of weeks ago.

  • The Unknown Pundit||

    You are an optimist.

  • The Unknown Pundit||

    And I hope you are right.

  • wareagle||

    Panetta to taxpayer: fuck you. If I want to work in DC but have my wife live in CA and fly home every weekend, that's what I'll do. Fuck you; that's why.

    The only uplifting thing is that stuff like this does not hide under the carpet anymore. Too many new media sources that ferret out these things.

  • Drake||

    Defense spending isn't be cut in the right places for the same reason the tax code isn't simplified - Congress loves to dole out the favors.

    The biggest feature of the F35 is that components are made in damn near every Congressional District. So what if it's an obscenely overpriced piece of shit? We need new planes and with all the R&D paid off for the F22, it was just too cheap to run them off a production line.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    The biggest feature of the F35 is that components are made in damn near every Congressional District. So what if it's an obscenely overpriced piece of shit?

    Not to mention that the F-35 is yet another in a long line of "joint-service" boondoggles that have been developed since McNamara.

    You know what the best plane in the Air Force inventory is, on both a performance and unit-cost basis? The A-10, which is essentially a service-and mission-proprietary aircraft.

    Every time the military tries to do this joint-service bullshit, ostensibly for the purpose of saving money by limiting itself to one primary platform, they actually end up spending more money in the long run because each service has different needs that the platform may not be able to readily accomodate. Look at the V-22--that fucking plane was supposed to cost $36 million apiece as of 1987. The CV-22 version alone costs over $100 million because development delays and all the fancy avionics and radar equipment the Air Force required; a basic model costs $89 million, roughly. And like the F-35, the parts are made in so many fucking districts that there's little incentive to move on to a plane that's actually cost-effective AND mission-effective.

  • Drake||

    The A-10, the plane the Air Force didn't want and will never replace. If the Army had not threatened to build it themselves, the AF would never have bought one of them.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    The A-10, the plane the Air Force didn't want and will never replace.

    Mainly because the top brass were wedded to nuclear delivery for so many decades and thought CAS was beneath them.

    The fact remains that the A-10 has been one of the most cost-effective and battle-effective platforms the Air Force ever produced, IN SPITE of the brass's efforts to marginalize and kill it, and the F-35 is going to be shit compared to it when it comes to performance. Fifty years from now, historians are going to look back and point to the Air Force's treatment of the A-10 program as a microcosm of everything that's wrong with US military weapons development.

  • Drake||

    The AF brass hated the A-10 because: it's slow, it's ugly, it was designed for ground attack not making fighter aces, it's built around a giant gun instead of missiles, it's designed to absorb punishment and continue to fight, and it's cheap.

    The F-35 is none of the above.

  • Drake||

    A couple of years ago the Indian Air Force was shopping for fighters. All the world's manufacturers were welcome to send examples for demonstration - then they would compare costs and quality between them - the way any of us would buy a car or TV.

    I was so jealous.

  • Boomer||

    I read this story to my wife; she asked why Panetta can't fly coach (or even 1st class for fuck's sake) to CA. I said because Panetta is such a high-value target to our enemies, government would likely claim it would be wrong to endanger all the other citizens who would be on a commercial jet with him.

    She answered, "But we're paying for the TSA. Aren't they keeping airliners safe?"

    BOOM!

  • Mo||

    The SecDef used to be able to fly commercial until "911 CHANGED EVERYTHING" and Congress and the Bush Administration changed the rule and required the SecDef to fly in a military jet. Though, my guess is Rummy saw an opportunity to upgrade his travel accomadations and took it.

  • Gray Ghost||

    $3200 an hour is probably pretty cheap. The C-37 is the Gov't version of the Gulfstream V. A cost analysis of the G-V lists a $4800 per hour cost.

    He's probably used to flying back every weekend from when he was the Representative from that area. Of course, I doubt he was flying private back then. Absolutely insane that he gets to use a G-V as his personal palanquin. He can't deadhead back aboard some C-17 or C-141 that was going back to the West Coast anyway?

    They've just no fucking shame anymore. None of them.

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