Michelle, Mom, Kids Africa Trip Costing Taxpayers $171,000 At Least for Air Travel Alone

James Zilenziger | June 21, 2011 | 10:05am EDT
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First lady Michelle Obama holds a bouquet of flowers, and daughters Malia, right, and Sasha, are draped in blankets given to them upon landing in Pretoria, en route to Johannesburg, South Africa, Monday, June 20, 2011, as they begin their week long trip to Africa. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, Pool)

(CNSNews.com) - The White House isn’t saying how much of a tab the taxpayers will need to pick up for the week-long trip that First Lady Michelle Obama, her two children, her mother, a niece and a nephew are taking to South Africa and Botswana.

But according to Congressional Research Service estimates, the flights alone will cost taxpayers more than $171,000--almost as much as the $174,000 annual salaries paid to rank-and-file members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The first lady--joined by daughters Malia and Sasha, Marian Robinson, and niece and nephew Leslie and Avery Robinson--is going to Africa to “improve relations between the U.S. and Africa and promote youth engagement, education, health and wellness,” according to the White House.

When CNSNews.com asked the first lady’s press office how much, on a daily basis, her trip to Africa will cost U.S. taxpayers her press secretary did not offer a response.

The White House did tell the Associated Press that all costs regarding Mrs. Obama’s family members are to be paid privately. However, because Mrs. Obama's trip will be considered official travel until her family heads off for “private time, including a safari and an overnight stay in the animal park” on Saturday, the taxpayers will be footing the bill for the first lady up to that point.

Such a trip for the First Lady typically involves an Air Force passenger jet, Secret Service personnel for security, and a separate cargo plane to transport official vehicles.

A Congressional Research Service report released in April 2010 provides guidelines for calculating the cost of the First Lady’s flights. The cargo flight, Secret Service personnel, and the meals and lodging are not included in the total cost.

(The Secret Service said it does not disclose details about any operation to protect the president or first lady.)

The first lady typically flies on a military jet which costs $5,353 to operate per hour.

A flight from Washington to Johannesburg is approximately 15 hours 30 minutes long, according to Air Routing International, a company that guides corporate flight planners. From Johannesburg to Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, a flight lasts 30 minutes, and from Gaborone to Washington, a flight is 15 hours.

In 2010 dollars, the cost of the first lady's flights alone would be $165,943. Using the Bureau of Labor Statistics's inflation adjuster to convert that to 2011 dollars, the total air travel cost is $171,961.07.

During the official part of Mrs. Obama’s trip, she will be meeting with Nelson Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel, as well as speaking with groups that work to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. There are currently between 5 and 6 million South Africans who live with HIV/AIDS.

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