Since 2001, security concerns have required the Defense secretary to use military aircraft for all business and personal long-distance travel. But incumbent Leon Panetta’s regular visits to his home in Monterey, Calif., have cost the Pentagon as much as $860,000, according to a recent Associated Press story.
The issue is rubbery. As reporter Lolita C. Baldor notes, Panetta declared when he took the job last July that he would continue to cross the country to return home, as he did as CIA Director and as a Member of Congress. He reimburses the government using the standard formula.
There is some question over whether Panetta plans long weekends around official travel, the fact that his predecessors traveled less, and the added costs of bringing along staff.
The issue of possible waste has been highlighted by The Washington Times. Pentagon press secretary George Little said, “No one understands the budget pressures on the Pentagon better than Secretary Panetta, who is responsible for identifying nearly $1 billion per week in defense cuts -- or roughly $140 million per day -- over the next 10 years." He added that Panetta values his time with his wife and family, and “spending time away from Washington, in fact, helps him focus on the job and recharge.”