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Costly Obama family trip to Africa under fire amid sequester cuts

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June 17, 2013: US first lady Michelle Obama, center, with her daughters Sasha, and Malia, are escorted by Patrick Prendergast, far left, President/Provost of Trinity College, during their visit to the Old Library at Trinity College, in Dublin, Ireland.AP

President Obama’s trip this month to Africa, with the first family tagging along, is projected to cost taxpayers as much as $100 million, sparking criticism as the federal government scrimps along during sequester-related budget cuts.

Among the related costs will be fighter jets; hundreds of Secret Service agents; a Navy ship with a full trauma center; and military cargo planes to bring 56 vehicles including 14 limousines and three trucks loaded with sheets of bullet­proof glass to cover the windows of the hotels where the first family will stay. The details were reported by The Washington Post, based on a confidential planning document.

The trip to sub-Sahara Africa runs from June 26 to July 3.

The president and first lady have cancelled plans to go on a safari that would have included the additional expense of a sharp-shooting team, responsible for putting down a cheetah, lion or any other wild animal that became a threat.

Figuring out the exact cost of the overall trip is difficult because the information is classified for the purpose of national security.

However, a Government Accountability Office report shows President Clinton’s 1998 trip to six African nations cost at least $42.7 million – not including Secret Service expenses.

Obama’s trip could cost the federal government $60 million to $100 million based on the costs of similar African trips in recent years, a person familiar with the Obama journey but not authorized to speak for attribution told The Post.

The trip comes as agencies across the federal government try to find cost-saving measures to deal with the massive, across-the-board budget cuts known as sequester, which kicked in this year after Washington lawmakers failed to agree on a more measured approach. The Secret Service, for example, pushed to cancel public White House tours to save thousands in weekly overtime expenses.

“For the cost of this trip to Africa, you could have 1,350 weeks of White House tours,” Rep. George Holding, a North Carolina Republican, said last week. “It is no secret that we need to rein in government spending, and the Obama administration has regularly and repeatedly shown a lack of judgment for when and where to make cuts. … The American people have had enough of the frivolous and careless spending.”

The White House had defended the trip cost saying the Secret Service plan determines the security cost and that first family’s trip will result in long-term goodwill. 

“The infrastructure that accompanies the president’s travels is beyond our control,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. “When you travel to regions like Africa that don’t get a lot of presidential attention, you tend to have very long-standing and long-running impact from the visit.”