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Old 09-01-2011, 10:55 PM   #8 (permalink)
Frank Lee
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How about this one: Defense Secretary's commute home raises eyebrows
WASHINGTON - Shortly after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta took office July 1, he boarded an Air Force jet and flew home to California for a three-day weekend. He has flown home five weekends since then and has spent part of a two-week vacation there.

Aides say that unless he is required to stay in Washington or travel elsewhere, Panetta will spend most weekends and days off at his 12-acre walnut farm in Carmel Valley, where he and his wife, Sylvia, make their home.

It is common for members of Congress to fly back to their districts every weekend or so. But his absences at the Pentagon have raised eyebrows in workaholic Washington. Even some of Panetta's friends wonder how he can get away so regularly while his department, by far the largest in the U.S. government, faces multiple wars and daily crises.

'Toughest job in Washington'

"I think he's got the toughest job in Washington, and I think it's amazing" that he plans to go home so often, said Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., who represents the area and calls his own weekly coast-to-coast commute "the toughest part of the job."

Panetta usually flies home late Friday and returns to Washington late Sunday, getting to work on Monday morning, his aides say. Before agreeing to run the Pentagon, he told the White House that he planned to go home frequently. His aides maintain he stays in touch while out of town.

When Hurricane Irene threatened the East Coast last weekend, Pentagon spokesman George Little said Panetta had taken "an average of 5-7 minutes to approve" requests from governors to mobilize National Guard units.

He stays in regular email and phone contact on his ranch, aides said. A secure telephone has been installed so he can discuss classified material, and he can participate in secure video teleconferences at a facility a short drive away.

When a CH-47 helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan on Aug. 6, killing 30 Americans, Panetta's senior military assistant, Lt. Gen. John Kelly, called him in Carmel Valley with the reports. The next morning, after he spoke to commanders in Afghanistan, Panetta joined a conference call convened by national security adviser Tom Donilon to discuss the incident, Pentagon officials said.

Always accessible

"He is on duty 24-7, as any senior official is, and just like the president when he goes on vacation, the secretary is accessible 24-7," said Doug Wilson, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs.

Robert Gates, the previous defense secretary, kept a home in Washington state. He visited several times a year but did not go home each weekend.

His predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, made occasional visits to a home in Taos, N.M., but he mostly stayed in Washington or at his house on the nearby Chesapeake Bay.

Panetta is required to fly on U.S. government aircraft to ensure constant communication with the Pentagon and the White House in case of a national security crisis. On personal trips, like the weekend flights, Panetta is required to reimburse the Treasury for the cost of an equivalent coach fare. The actual cost is far higher -- about $3,200 per flight hour, the Defense Department said.

When he goes home, he flies on the Air Force version of a Gulfstream executive jet, which also carries communications gear. When he was the CIA director, Panetta once was out of contact for 45 minutes aboard a chartered aircraft, aides said.

The CIA director's usual plane had mechanical problems, and aides discovered they did not have the phone number of the replacement aircraft. It became a mini-crisis when an urgent request came for Panetta to approve an operation against a suspected terrorist, a senior Pentagon aide said. Communications were eventually restored, and the delay had no impact on the operation.
Defense Secretary's commute home raises eyebrows | Huh. Forget the link; the Strib changed this very link to something unrelated and deleted the comment section too.

If I never started another engine for the rest of my life it still wouldn't make up for the fuel this ***hole is burning. That's kind of like thinking about Fat Charlie's comment, my entire life's tax contributions probably paid for one tailfin on one missile (no I don't want to do the math to really know).

Last edited by Frank Lee; 09-02-2011 at 06:24 PM..
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