Conflict & Justice

Leon Panetta regrets cost to taxpayer of trips home on military jet


US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Wednesday that US forces would leave their combat role in Afghanistan as early as 2013. He is headed to a NATO meeting in Brussels, where Afghanistan is expected to be a central topic of discussion.


Win McNamee

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said he regrets that his frequent flights home to California on a military jet have cost taxpayers more than $800,000 since July, although he hasn't said he'll stop taking them.

"I regret that it does ... add costs that the taxpayer has to pick up," Panetta said, according to the Wall Street Journal, noting that Panetta did say he was looking at alternatives that could save money.

According to the Journal, Panetta has has been flying home to Monterey, California — where his wife lives on their walnut farm — regularly on the weekends since starting his career in Washington as a congressman in 1977.

Most of his six grandchildren to three sons also live in California.

Whereas previously he could take commercial flights, his current post and previous role as CIA director require him remain in constant contact, and therefore to take a government aircraft equipped with special communications gear.

"It is healthy to get out of Washington periodically to get your mind straight and your perspective straight," Panetta reportedly said Monday.

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ABC News wrote that Panetta often took a small military jet, with the 10-hour round-trip flights estimated to cost $32,000 each.

Panetta is only required to pay the cost of a commercial ticket for himself — about $630 a flight, or 2 percent of the total cost of each flight.

The Associated Press, which earlier this month detailed the costs of the 27 round-trip flights home Panetta has taken since he became Pentagon chief last July, wrote that Panetta flies on an Air Force C-37 – comparable to a Gulfstream jet – which is the lowest-cost aircraft that can carry the necessary communications equipment.

Several media quoted him as saying Monday that: "A taxpayer would have to pick up those costs with any secretary of state or secretary of defense. But having said that, I am trying to look at what are ... the alternatives here that I can look at that might possibly be able to save funds and, at the same time, be able to fulfill my responsibilities, not only to my job, but to my family."

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