- Days left

Just how much did taxpayers pay to get terrorized by that Air Force One fly-by?

President Obama has ordered a review of that spectacularly dumb fly-by over lower Manhattan that panicked thousands of workers still shell-shocked from 9/11. He's said to be "furious," and he says the exercise, orchestrated to generate some new photos of the plane, was an inappropriate use of taxpayer money.

Excuse me while I do a little happy dance. Whenever I hear any federal politician seriously explore responsibility to the taxpayer, I'm nearly bowled over by the novelty.
I hope Obama has better luck coming to an approximate price tag than I have. I've noodled around to find some good guesses, though. A 2007 Congressional Research Service report estimated the cost per hour to operate the plane used as Air Force One as between $34,400 and $56,800, depending on whom you ask: the White House (at the time, the Bush one) or the Air Force. That price included the POTUS' entourage and security services, but since fuel and maintenance are a lion's share of the expense, it gives you a good ballpark idea, and it matches the $40,000 that Katie Couric estimates on her blog.

Try eight times higher, at least. ABC News reported that the Air Force estimated cost of the exercise was $328,835. I don't know how much I trust that number, given that it was added inside heads that are sure to roll soon. It's not yet clear if that figure includes the cost of the two F-16 fighter jets that escorted the jet. That figure also doesn't come close to calculating the dramatic plunge in productivity at all the offices where thousands of workers quickly evacuated their buildings, terrified they were being targeted again. Or of the cost incurred by the surge of calls to 911 for emergency response. We'll never know how much that self-inflicted terror cost us.

The Department of Defense's own defenders have claimed the flights were combined with a pre-scheduled training flight in order to save money.

This isn't the first time that a government has ripped off taxpayers in order to look good before the cameras. In 2001, Australian taxpayers savaged government ministers after its Air Force flew the castaways (including The View's Elisabeth Hasselbeck) of CBS' Survivor game show on a military transport plane to the outback. That flight cost the average Joe an estimated $150,000, and it, too, was defended with a claim that it qualified as training.

Couric and comic Jon Stewart alike suggested that new press photos could have been achieved for $700. That's the price for a copy of Photoshop.

I was in lower Manhattan on that day in 2001, and the cavalier attitude evidenced by the fly-by disgusts me, to put it mildly, but I find it perfectly representative of a general attitude, espoused by military profiteers entrenched in our government, about the untouchable status of the military.
The military branches of our government have got to learn that they don't own the show anymore and they have to be subject to the same rules of prudence, common sense, and fiscal wisdom that the rest of us have to obey. Watching Manhattan residents scramble for safety, it became obvious that our government doesn't always seem to consider the very people it purports to protect. We need a new system of transparency and accountability.

I'm clipping coupons. So can the Department of Defense, particularly when it comes to blowing our money on what amounts to some glamour shots for an airplane.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Introduction to Preferred Shares

Learn the difference between preferred and common shares.

View Course »

How Financial Planners go Grocery Shopping

Learn to shop smart and save.

View Course »

TurboTax Articles

What is IRS Form 8824: Like-Kind Exchange

Ordinarily, when you sell something for more than what you paid to get it, you have a capital gain; when you sell it for less than what you paid, you have a capital loss. Both can affect your taxes. But if you immediately buy a similar property to replace the one you sold, the tax code calls that a "like-kind exchange," and it lets you delay some or all of the tax effects. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) uses Form 8824 for like-kind exchanges.

What are ABLE Accounts? Tax Benefits Explained

Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts allow the families of disabled young people to set aside money for their care in a way that earns special tax benefits. ABLE accounts work much like the so-called 529 accounts that families can use to save money for education; in fact, an ABLE account is really a special kind of 529.

What is IRS Form 8829: Expenses for Business Use of Your Home

One of the many benefits of working at home is that you can deduct legitimate expenses from your taxes. The downside is that since home office tax deductions are so easily abused, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tends to scrutinize them more closely than other parts of your tax return. However, if you are able to substantiate your home office deductions, you shouldn't be afraid to claim them. IRS Form 8829 helps you determine what you can and cannot claim.

What is IRS Form 8859: Carryforward of D.C. First-Time Homebuyer Credit

Form 8859 is a tax form that will never be used by the majority of taxpayers. However, if you live in the District of Columbia (D.C.), it could be the key to saving thousands of dollars on your taxes. While many first-time home purchasers in D.C. are entitled to a federal tax credit, Form 8859 calculates the amount of carry-forward credit you can use in future years, not the amount of your initial tax credit.

What is IRS Form 8379: Injured Spouse Allocation

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has the power to seize income tax refunds when a taxpayer owes certain debts, such as unpaid taxes or overdue child support. Sometimes, a married couple's joint tax refund will be seized because of a debt for which only one spouse is responsible. When that happens, the other spouse is said to be "injured" and can file Form 8379 to get at least some of the refund.