Michelle Obama’s Africa Trip Cost More Than $424,142

Michelle Obama’s Africa Trip Cost More Than $424,142

October 4, 2011    RSS Feed      Print 

First lady Michelle Obama’s family trip to South Africa and Botswana  in June cost taxpayers well over $424,000, according to new accounting  based on Air Force manifests obtained by Judicial Watch, a taxpayer watchdog  group.

The use of Air Force aircraft alone for the June  21-27 trip cost $424,142, said the group, and that doesn’t include the  food, lodging, and ground transportation for the 21 family and staff  members.

[See   photos of the Obamas abroad.]

Judicial Watch said it based the jet costs on the  Pentagon’s hourly rates for the C-32A aircraft used for the trip. The  documents don’t give exact cost calculations, which is typical for  presidential and first family trips.

The White House this afternoon disputed the costs calculated by Judicial Watch. “The number stated is misconstrued and out of context. The hourly rate is not the marginal cost of operation the plane – it is an accounting figure that prices in a number of fixed costs from maintaining the Air Force fleet for this kind of plane over a year,” said an official. “For example, it includes estimated replacement parts, depreciation, repairs, and costs that would have been incurred regardless of this flight. Also, for security reasons Mrs. Obama must fly on military aircraft.” Also, during her good-will mission, the first lady attended five to seven official events daily.

Obama is like many  first ladies, spending summers traveling on good-will missions,  sometimes with family and friends. On the June trip, during which she  was accompanied by her daughters and mother, the first lady urged young  people to engage with their governments and she pushed her education and  wellness agenda. They also took a safari in South Africa, well known  for its beautiful Lion King-like settings.

The costs of the  trips have often won media scorn, as did her trip to Spain the previous  summer.

[See photos   of Michelle Obama.]

But presidential experts say that the value of first lady  visits is priceless, especially in cases like Obama’s to Africa where  the first family has special ties and where the president has been  pursuing a personal agenda, especially in Kenya, the home of his father.

Here is a link to the Judicial Watch files and  their release:

Charges for the  Aircraft and Crew Alone Amount to $424,142

Contact  Information:

Washington, DC — October 4, 2011

Judicial Watch,  the organization that investigates and fights government corruption,  announced today that it has obtained mission expense records and  passenger manifests from the United States Air Force related to the June  21-27, 2011, trip taken by First Lady Michelle Obama, her family and  her staff to South Africa and Botswana. Judicial Watch obtained the  documents pursuant to an August 19, 2011, Freedom of Information Act  (FOIA) lawsuit (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Air Force (No. 11-1496)).  Judicial Watch is investigating the purpose and itinerary of the trip as  well as a breakdown of the costs to taxpayers.

On June 28,  2011, Judicial Watch filed a FOIA request seeking the mission taskings,  transportation records, and passenger manifests for Michelle Obama’s  Africa trip. Documents were only provided after Judicial Watch filed  suit:

• According to U.S. Department of Defense’s published  hourly rates for the C-32A aircraft used for the trip, Judicial Watch  calculated the total cost to American taxpayers was $424,142 for use of  the aircraft (34.8 flight hours x $12,188 per hour). (The C-32 is a  specially configured military version of the Boeing 757.) Other expenses  – meals (off the plane), transportation, security, various services,  etc. – have yet to be disclosed.

• The passenger manifests  confirm the presence of Obama’s daughter’s, Malia and Sasha on the trip.  The two girls are listed as “Senior Staff.” The manifests also list  Mrs. Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson, and niece and nephew, Leslie and  Avery Robinson, as well Mrs. Obama’s makeup and hairstylist (Carl Ray  and Johnny Wright).

• The expense records also show $928.44  was spent for “bulk food” purchases on flight. Overall, during the trip,  192 meals were served for the 21 passengers on board.

The  professed purpose of Michelle Obama’s trip to South Africa and Botswana  was to encourage young people living in the two growing democracies to  become involved in national affairs; and during her scheduled stops in  Pretoria and Cape Town, South Africa and in Gaborone, the capital of  Botswana, the First Lady used the opportunity to speak on education,  health and wellness issues.

The trip also included such  tourist events as visits to historical landmarks and museums, plus a  nonworking chance to send time with Nelson Mandela, a meeting that Mrs.  Obama described as “surreal.” The trip ended with a private family  safari at a South African game reserve before the group returned to  Washington on June 27.

“This trip was as much an opportunity  for the Obama family to go on a safari as it was a trip to conduct  government business,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “This  junket wasted tax dollars and the resources of our overextended  military. No wonder we had to sue to pry loose this information.”

Previously, Judicial Watch uncovered that the First Couple’s 2009  “date night” trip to New York for dinner and a Broadway show cost  taxpayers over $11,000 in Secret Service costs alone.

Updated 10/4/11: This post has been updated to include a White House response Corrected on 10/5/11: An earlier version of this article’s headline misstated the cost of a Michelle Obama’s trip to Africa. The trip cost at least $424,142.

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