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Reagan's Vacation : When the President Takes Time Off Out Here, the Costs and the Logistics Are Enormous

September 08, 1987|BOB SIPCHEN | Times Staff Writer

The presidential chain saw has fallen silent, the meat-loaf pans have been washed, and Rawhide and Rainbow, as the Secret Service refers to President and Nancy Reagan, are back in the White House after a 25-day working vacation on the West Coast.

Life at the Reagans' Rancho del Cielo, 29 miles north of Santa Barbara, was reportedly slow-paced and simple this year. But, as anyone who watched Air Force One leave the Point Mugu Naval Air Station near Oxnard on Sunday morning could see, the logistics of the First Family's vacations are enormous. Clearly their vacation budget is a bit bigger and more complex than that of the average American.

The President has spent about one year of his 6 1/2 years in office vacationing in California. And those 356 days--the unofficial estimate of the White House transportation office--haven't been cheap.

The White House, federal agency officials and many of the California business people who serve the presidential entourage cite security considerations in refusing to discuss the particulars and costs of the latest presidential R & R. But an unofficial and very conservative estimate based on knowledgeable sources puts the taxpayers' share of the 25-day rest at $600,298--excluding such items as food and toiletries, which come out of the Reagans' pockets.

Considering that the Reagans visit the ranch at least three times a year and Palm Springs each New Year's--expenses for the presidential vacations in California have easily topped $8 million since they moved into the White House.

All Presidents take vacations, and, in terms of frequency, Reagan ranks somewhat lower than John F. Kennedy, who took one day of vacation for every 3 1/2 days in office, and a lot higher than Jimmy Carter, whose vacations took up only one of every 18 days he was in office, according to an estimate by Congressional Quarterly.

Here is a breakdown of the First Couple's latest trip and a rough estimate of its costs:

On Aug. 13, the Reagans boarded Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, flew west, made a brief working stop in North Platte, Neb., and arrived that evening at Point Mugu. There, they boarded the Marine One helicopter, which passed uncomfortably close to a small private plane as it approached their 688-acre retreat in the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Accompanying them was an entourage whose official numbers the White House wouldn't reveal. But, said Mark Weinberg of the White House press office, about a dozen staff members stayed in Santa Barbara, among them National Security Adviser Frank Carlucci and White House Chief of Staff Howard C. Baker Jr. In addition, there were at least 24 military communications personnel, a dozen drivers and aides, and a minimum of 24 Secret Service agents, according to informed estimates.

Air Force One, a modified Boeing 707, costs about $5,728 an hour to fly, including "the people that fly it and maintenance to fly it," a spokesman said. Flight time from Andrews Air Force Base to Point Mugu Naval Air Station averages just under five hours, so a round-trip total would be $57,280, excluding the stop in Nebraska on the way west or the stop in Kansas on the way back.

'Doomsday Plane'

Whenever the President flies, Air Force One is followed by both a back-up version and the National Emergency Airborne Command Post, or the "doomsday plane" (a modified Boeing 747 that sometimes causes garage doors to open whenever it is in the neighborhood). Figures for those planes weren't available, but if their costs are the same as Air Force One, the total would be an additional $114,560.

The presidential helicopter cost $840 an hour to fly in 1981, according to an Associated Press report. At least two additional helicopters accompany the President, so the cost for round-trip flights from Point Mugu to Rancho del Cielo, and from the ranch to Century City (at about an hour each way) would be $10,080. Factor in an additional $10 for the earplugs that members of the Marine Corps crew hand out to passengers.

Whenever the President is flying to or from Point Mugu, the California Highway Patrol also provides a sergeant and two traffic officers for about two hours at Point Mugu and the same number just north of Santa Barbara in Goleta as "standby escorts" according to Capt. Mike Porrazzo. A "good ballpark figure" for the officers' four hours of overtime, he said, would be about $30 an hour, putting the ground support cost at $720.

Those in the entourage who don't fly on Air Force One or with the press in the accompanying "zoo plane" (which is paid for by the media who fly in it), traveled on military aircraft or commercial airlines, the White House said.

The costs of military transportation could not be obtained. But, if a third of the entourage flew commercial airlines, ignored round-trip first-class air fare from Washington to Santa Barbara, which can be as much as $1,666, and chose instead the cheapest round-trip rate available, $308, the total would be $7,392.

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