The former head of the White House Travel Office says he "can't imagine any of the presidents" he worked for making a trip as costly as President Barack Obama's journey to sub-Saharan Africa later this month.
Billy Dale, who was at the center of the Clinton administration controversy known as "Travelgate" in 1993-95, spoke to Newsmax following reports in The Washington Post that the trip by the president and his family on June 25 could cost up to $100 million.
"After I read that story in the paper, I thought to myself: 'It's mind-boggling to think of taking a trip like this when we're having to make the cuts in federal spending that we're now having to make,'" said Dale, now 76 and retired in Virginia.
"I can't imagine any president I worked for ever making a trip like that, especially when we had to tighten the budget," said Dale, who worked in the White House Travel Office for presidents from John Kennedy to Bill Clinton.
In May 1993, Dale was fired as head of the Travel Office ostensibly to make room for a private travel agency, spawning a scandal. Dale was subsequently tried on charges of embezzling from the White House Press Corps, but was exonerated in November 1995.
Dale recalled how during President Richard Nixon's final Christmas in the White House in December 1973, Nixon "was very concerned about the image it would present to the American people of flying in Air Force One for a Christmas trip to Florida. He considered flying commercial to the extent of having me block six seats on National Airlines."
But, at the strong urging of the Secret Service, Nixon finally agreed to take the Florida trip on Air Force One.
Dale, as well as the reporters who have been writing on the estimated $60 million to $100 million cost of the trip, which will take the Obamas to Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania, all concede the White House's point: That the cost is determined almost entirely by what the U.S. Secret Service says is necessary to protect the first family during their trip.
According to the Post, this includes 56 support vehicles, including 14 limousines and three trucks carrying bulletproof glass panels for the places the Obamas will stay.
"When I started, security was nothing like it is today," said Dale. "It has changed so much."
But there is so much attention being paid to the cost of this trip because of the forced federal spending cuts known as sequestration, which include substantial cuts in the budget of the Secret Service.
In the president's trip, he will underscore the importance of U.S. partnerships with the nations he is visiting and also stress the importance of international health programs.
"I'm sure this is important," Dale said, "but when you look at what this mission costs, you have to ask yourself if it's really worth all that money in times like this. No one seems to take into consideration the cost anymore."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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