Limousine Liberals: Why Has the Number of Government-Owned Limos Jumped 73 Percent in 2 Years of Obama?
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As hardworking Americans lose their jobs, homes and livelihoods, the watchdog group iWatch News recently reported that the Obama administration is upping its number of federally owned, taxpayer purchased limousines. If that is not ironic enough, consider this: Just last week, President Obama issued an executive order requiring government agencies to increase the fuel efficiency of their fleets.
"Hey Hillary, hot ride!"
According to a report by iWatchNews, the number of government-owned limos increased by 73 percent during the first two years of the Obama administration, and most of the increase was recorded in Hillary Clinton's State Department. While she and other officials in the department may think cruising around like rock stars is a good look, people with even the most humble appreciation for an economic crisis may consider the luxury obnoxious, to say the least. To taxpaying citizens who have had their cars repossessed or choose to take public transportation to save some of their hard-earned money, it is offensive.
For most of us, limousines are a status symbol on which the rich like to blow a little excess cash. The U.S. government, however, seems to believe they are safety vehicles vital to the protection of diplomats and government officials in a big, scary world -- despite the fact that they just may just draw a little bit of attention, and animosity, to the person inside. According to General Services Administration data, the number of limousines in the federal fleet increased by 73 percent, up from 238 in 2008 to 412 in 2010. Of these 174 new limos, 111 of them joined the fleet in 2009, during more than eight months of which Obama spent his first year in office.
To give Obama the benefit of the doubt, some of the purchases may have been part of a Bush administration appropriation process that would have kicked off in the spring of 2008.
While government purchase of limousines during a budget crisis is troubling, even more startling is the lack of transparency on such a cut-and-dry issue. The federal fleet numbers are recorded annually, but the GSA said its limo numbers are not reliable.
In a statement, GSA spokeswoman Sara Merriam said the GSA "cannot say that its report accurately reflects the number of limousines" because "the categories in the Fleet Report are overly broad, and the term 'limousine' is not defined," and that "vehicles represented as limousines can range from protective duty vehicles to sedans."
The number of limousines in the federal fleet has fluctuated, but GSA's "unreliable" accounting makes determining exactly how many federal limos have been in circulation difficult.
Leslie Paige, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste, was outraged by the GSA's number games. "They can't figure out a way to define a limo? How hard can it be? If the government can't track limos, I'm not sure we should trust the numbers they put out there on anything," she said. Maybe for the government and the GSA, limousines are so routine that they have become continuous with the concept of "car."
Spoiled as government officials may be, some federal agencies and departments may have been victim to unfair limousine distribution. The State Department's 259 limos surpassed every other agency's limo stash in 2010, and the department has gained 194 limos since fiscal year 2008. Of the new 194, 98 were defined as "law enforcement." According to the GSA, these limos are either used for surveillance or undercover operations or decked-out with sweet additions like sirens, lights and high-performance drivetrains.
While the State Department continues to usher its diplomats around in style, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Government Printing Office, for example, have not been so fortunate. The VA, which once owned 21 limos under George W. Bush in 2008, now sports only one. Similarly, the Government Printing Office went from six to none between 2009 and 2010.
To save some face, the State Department released a statement that limos, many of which protect against attack, are deployed by overseas diplomats and in the United States by Secretary of State Clinton and "distinguished foreign visitors." While it may seem intuitive that the use of limos in countries with anti-Western sentiment could strengthen this animosity, the department said its Obama-era increase in armored limos is "both in proportion to the increased threat to diplomats serving overseas and is in proportion to the increase number of diplomats we have serving in high-threat environments."
Instead of defining a limousine as an extraordinarily long vehicle with tinted windows and champagne on ice, the State Department said it calls any vehicle that carries a VIP or "other protectee" a limousine. Cars considered limos based on this functional definition do not, however, lack luxury. The State Department also said most of its limos are Cadillac DTSs. Pre-government pimping, these sexy VIP transporters cost taxpayers more than 60,000 for a 2011 base model. Why not Plexiglas a Kia?
The State Department also takes good care of ambassadors in countries where vehicles are right-hand drive. For them, the department said it a purchased a limited number of 7-Series BMWs, without which, adjusting to opposite-side driving must be impossible.
The increase in limos comes just as the Obama administration is working to up its green energy credibility by focusing on the federal fleet. On Tuesday, Obama released a presidential memorandum that requires agencies to purchase only alternative fuel vehicles by 2015 and limits executive fleets to mid-sized and smaller cars.
Because the government can slap a safety clause on pretty much anything, do not expect to see a federal fleet of used Hondas anytime soon. Exceptions like "where larger sedans are essential to the agency mission" and the exemption of law enforcement and security vehicles (those mentioned above) leave plenty of room for limousines. According to a March report by the GAO, in 2009, the federal government used 963,000 gallons on its 600,000 vehicles a day, and spent $1.9 billion on new rides that year.
In a nod to the government's serial justification of spending with terrorism and security, Paige, of CAGW, called the new federal limos "one more reason why there is so much cynicism in the public about what goes on in Washington." The VA and Government Printing Office did not respond to calls for comment, and the Obama administration has yet to respond to the report.