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US Government Limos Up 73% Under Obama (Or Maybe Not)

Some government watchdog groups are mad that too many government officials have limousines. And that they don’t really know how many government officials have limousines.

CPI iWatch News (“Limousine liberals? Number of government-owned limos has soared under Obama“):

Limousines, the very symbol of wealth and excess, are usually the domain of corporate executives and the rich. But the number of limos owned by Uncle Sam increased by 73 percent during the first two years of the Obama administration, according to an analysis of records by iWatch News.

Most of the increase was recorded in Hillary Clinton’s State Department.

Obama administration officials said most of the increase reflects an enhanced effort to protect diplomats and other government officials in a dangerous world. But a watchdog group says the abundance of limos sends the wrong message in the midst of a budget crisis. The increase in limos comes to light on the heels of an executive order from President Obama last week that charges agencies to increase the fuel efficiency of their fleets.

Okay so far.

According to General Services Administration data , the number of limousines in the federal fleet increased from 238 in fiscal 2008, the last year of the George W. Bush administration, to 412 in 2010. Much of the 73 percent increase—111 of the 174 additional limos—took place in fiscal 2009, more than eight months of which corresponded with Obama’s first year in office.  However, some of those purchases could reflect requests made by the Bush administration during an appropriations process that would have begun in the spring of 2008.

The GSA said its limousine numbers are not reliable, even though the federal fleet numbers are officially recorded every year.  In a statement, GSA spokeswoman Sara Merriam said, “The categories in the Fleet Report are overly broad, and the term ‘limousine’ is not defined,” adding that “vehicles represented as limousines can range from protective duty vehicles to sedans.” Asked whether the GSA actually knows how many limos it has in its fleet, Merriam responded that GSA “cannot say that its report accurately reflects the number of limousines.”

Leslie Paige, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste, was outraged that the GSA’s numbers may not be accurate. “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.

So, we don’t know whether the number of limousines owned by the government has increased or they’re simply counting vehicles that were once considered “cars” as limousines? That’s an important point in a debate over limousines, I’d say.

Although the overall limo numbers in the fleet report were up in 2010, federal agencies and departments did not benefit equally. The State Department, with 259, had more limos than any other agency in 2010 and has gained 194 limos just since fiscal 2008. Of those new limos, 98 were defined as “law enforcement,” which the GSA said means they are equipped with sirens or lights, high-performance drivetrains, or are used for surveillance or undercover operations.

The State Department in a statement said its limos are deployed by overseas diplomats and in the United States by Secretary of State Clinton and “distinguished foreign visitors.”  Many of the limos in its fleet are armored to protect against attack. 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.” Appropriations documents indicate the State Department was engaged in a longer-term effort to increase the number of armored vehicles that would have stretched back to at least 2007.

The department said it defines a limo as a vehicle that carries a VIP or “other protectee,” rather than by the type of car, but said most of its limos are Cadillac DTSs, which cost the taxpayer more than $60,000 for a 2011 base model and support the additional weight of armoring. The department said it also purchased a limited number of 7-Series BMWs for ambassadors in countries where vehicles are right-hand drive.

But by State’s definition, the Humvee that I rode as a lieutenant was actually a limo! Okay, so I wasn’t Very Important. Indeed, I’m still not. But I had a driver and the vehicle, while not up-armored, could be configured with a Kevlar armor shell.

The Department of Homeland Security, which in 2010 had the second largest number of limos at 118, dropped four limos from 2008 to 2010. A spokesman for DHS said the majority of its limos are used by the Secret Service, which is part of the department, but declined to elaborate on exact numbers, citing security concerns.

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.” She said terrorism and security has become the catchall justification for increased federal spending.

The Secret Service is part of the DHS. So, presumably, the presidential limos are part of this.  But, apparently, both State and DHS are counting those black SUVs that constitute the bulk of VIP motorcades as “limousines.” That’s an odd definition.

I’ve expressed my annoyance was motorcades and the like a few times over the years. We’ve ratcheted down the level of official whose time is sufficiently valuable to merit them way too far in my view. But I don’t begrudge cabinet secretaries and foreign heads of state safe vehicles with drivers and a small security detail, either.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. tom p says:

    Of those new limos, 98 were defined as “law enforcement,” which the GSA said means they are equipped with sirens or lights, high-performance drivetrains, or are used for surveillance or undercover operations.

    “That limo is not conspicuous at all, nobody will notice it.”

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  2. Franklin says:

    That’s basically what I was thinking, tom p. Undercover limousines – they’ll never expect it, though!

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  3. matt says:

    Well I believe part of James point was that vehicles that are clearly not limos are being counted as limos…

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  4. top pot says:

    I would not find other site as same to your information about US Government Limos. It’s got plenty of room for the long gown. Thanks dude!

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  5. Southern Hoosier says:

    tom p says: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 14:20

    Of those new limos, 98 were defined as “law enforcement,” which the GSA said means they are equipped with sirens or lights, high-performance drivetrains, or are used for surveillance or undercover operations.

    “That limo is not conspicuous at all, nobody will notice it.”

    They are probably using the Cadillac Escalade in law enforcement and counting it as a limo.

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  6. Phebe Snow says:

    Matt must be the only one who read the article. The term limo is used very loosely in government and they are counting everything from sedans to SUVs.

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