Outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is an interesting man — one whose resume is devoid of work in the supposedly lucrative private sector, but has made himself extremely wealthy — worth tens of millions of dollars — in 40 years of self-serving “public service.”
Soldiers and Marines who might be somewhat bemused by this can see one way that Washington insiders like Panetta enrich themselves: by writing rules that grant them bodacious Bentley benefits, personal use of which they only have to reimburse in crappy Chrysler coin.
What we’ve called Panetta’s “million-dollar Gulfstream commute” is instructive, in part because we’ve far undervalued it — Panetta, in fact, burnt more than a million dollars a year in personal wet-bar-equipped Gulfstream travel, as much as $6.4 million worth. He “reimbursed” DOD only about $30,000, or as little as 4.9 tenths of 1 percent. This is as he presided over an unprecedent peacetime decline in American fighting power that left us weaker in the Pacific than the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor did, and weaker in Naval power than any time since 1917 and in Air power since before the creation of the US Air Force.
The Washington Times first asked Mr. Panetta about the trips in November, 2011. At the time he admitted to flying home 14 times since taking over as defense secretary in July — nearly every weekend — and had no plans to curtail the trips.
Each flight home and back cost the Pentagon an estimated $32,000, but Mr. Panetta is only required to pay $630 per trip — the cost of an equivalent roundtrip commercial flight.
Mr. Panetta’s argument about the need to get away from the daily environment and rigors of the job, which he has made before, has struck some active-duty servicemen who have endured repeated deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan as particularly offensive, although they would only say so privately out of fear of reprisal.
The Defense Department at first refused to provide information about Mr. Panetta’s reimbursements, and subsequent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for receipts of the reimbursements directed to the Air Force, the Treasury Department and the Pentagon were rerouted and repeatedly delayed.
If Panetta took his personal jet home 50 weeks a year, that would cost the taxpayers $1.6 million a year, or $6.4 million for four years, for this routine perk of high-level DC panjandrums. (This is almost certainly a lowball number, and doesn’t account for the actual or opportunity cost of a flight crew twiddling their thumbs while awaiting his pleasure). But after the story broke, this dekamillionaire “public servant” grudgingly reimbursed the tax payers — $629 a flight, the cost of a lowball coach ticket.
For his potential $6.4 million in travel freebies, he might have to pony up $31,540 — roughly 4.9 tenths of a percent of the value of the benefit he pocketed. Remember, he’s a very wealthy multimillionaire, as is normal for men with his long service at high levels in DC. Now you start to see how he got that way despite barely upper-middle-class nominal salaries.
Panetta’s point is that the token 0.0049% “reimbursement” is what the law requires — a law that also applies to, and was written by, grifting Congressmen who get free super-luxury jet travel, both from the USAF which has literally thousands of service members from its declining head count dedicated to this VIP “mission”, and from “campaign contributors” — usually influence seekers or access peddlers. And then they make it all good by having a staffer find out what being jammed in a middle seat on Air Human Suffering costs the proles. In other words, his point is, he’s not a crook because he’s just as honest as a Congressman.
We’ll say it: Crook.
So next time they tell you, no can do, “you can’t be spared” for a mid-tour R&R or leave, or, “there’s no lift available” to get you home, think of those thousands of Air Force personnel devoted to Washington knob-polishing. Next time you get a half-filled ammo requisition or told you won’t be getting a vital personnel vacancy on your MTOE filled because of “budget cuts,” remember that the budget cuts are just for you. Chump.
But change that uniform for a suit and you, too, could quietly build immense wealth while working a short schedule and every long angle you can find. But, oh, wait… you’ve already been in uniform too long. The suits know you’re not really one of them. A Boomer like Panetta was allowed to do unavoidable national service, especially if he did it without getting his fingernails dirty. Do a dumb thing like go to where the Iron Crosses grow, and the Washington Establishment already has antibodies to you and will reject you violently.
Sorry about that.