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

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By The Washington Post
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.

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