Share This Page

Tens of millions to be spent on Obama's trip to Africa

| Thursday, June 13, 2013, 7:42 p.m.

White House and Secret Service officials declined to discuss the details of the security operations, and administration aides cautioned that the president's itinerary is not finalized.

Obama's overseas travels come as government agencies, including the Secret Service, are wrestling with mandatory, across-the-board spending cuts. The service has had to slice $84 million from its budget this year, and this spring the agency canceled public White House tours to save $74,000 a week in overtime costs.

Many details about foreign presidential trips are classified for national security reasons, and there is little public information about overall costs. A report from the Government Accountability Office found that Clinton's 1998 trip to six African nations cost the U.S. government at least $42.7 million. Most of that was incurred by the military, which made 98 airlift missions to transport personnel and vehicles, and set up temporary medical evacuation units in five countries.

That figure did not include costs borne by the Secret Service, which were considered classified.

Obama's trip could cost the federal government $60 million to $100 million based on the costs of similar African trips in recent years, according to one person familiar with the journey, who was not authorized to speak for attribution. The Secret Service planning document, which was provided to The Post by a person who is concerned about the amount of resources necessary for the trip, does not specify costs.

“The infrastructure that accompanies the president's travels is beyond our control,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. “The security requirements are not White House-driven, they are Secret Service-driven. . . . Part of this is the nature of making sure we travel to emerging areas in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa. They are not as designed to facilitate the footprint of the United States president.”

But current and former government security officials involved in presidential trips said White House staff also help determine what's required, because they plan the visits and parameters. The Secret Service and military respond to that itinerary by providing what their agencies consider the required security.

White House officials said the trip was long overdue, marking Obama's first visit as president to sub-Saharan Africa aside from a 22-hour stopover in Ghana in 2009. The emerging democracies on the itinerary are crucial partners in regional security conflicts, Rhodes said.

Obama will hold bilateral meetings with each country's leader and seek to forge stronger economic ties at a time when China is investing heavily in Africa. He also will highlight global health programs, including HIV/AIDS prevention.

The first lady, who toured South Africa and Botswana without the president in 2011, will headline some events on her own during the week. The stops will add to the logistical challenges, because she will require her own security detail and vehicles, the planning document shows.

Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan declined to discuss details of the journey. “We always provide the appropriate level of protection to create a secure environment,” he said.

According to the Secret Service document, Obama will spend a night in Dakar, Senegal, two nights in Johannesburg, a night in Cape Town, South Africa, and then one night in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Among the 56 vehicles for the trip are parade limousines for the president and first lady; a specialized communications vehicle for secure telephone and video connections; a truck that jams radio frequencies around the presidential motorcade; a fully loaded ambulance that can handle biological or chemical contaminants; and a truck for X-ray equipment.

The Secret Service transports such vehicles, along with bulletproof glass, on most trips, including those inside the United States, White House officials said. But with quick stops in three countries, the agency will need three sets of each, because there is not enough time to transfer the equipment, according to the planning document.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.