BY JERYL BIER
WASHINGTON D.C. – The White House has been tight-lipped about the cost of First Lady Michelle Obama’s trip to China, but based on the choice for lodging, it could be considerable. Mrs. Obama and her entourage, which numbers seventy according to the Washington Times (including her two daughters and her mother), booked the Westin Chaoyang Hotel close to the U.S. embassy in Beijing for their first stop. According to USA Today, the presidential suite at the hotel is listed as $8,400 per night.
But when Vice President Joe Biden visited China in December 2013, he and his team stayed at the St. Regis Hotel after the contracting officer responsible for booking rooms determined that the Westin Chaoyang hotel “price was prohibitive when compared with St. Regis.” This is according to the justification and approval documents just released on a government contracting website:
The following other hotels were reviewed but were not adequate because of the following:
Grand Hyatt Beijing—cannot meet security requirements for travel into and out of the building.
Westin Chaoyang—price was prohibitive when compared with St. Regis—otherwise met requirements.
According to the documents, the estimated cost for the vice president’s visit was $384,479.19. A total of 1,345 room nights were estimated for advance preparation for the visit as well as the vice president’s actual stay:
An estimated 1345 room nights are required to support this visit. Starting on November 19 with 4 rooms and hitting a peak of 213 rooms on the days of the visit, the hotel will provide lodging rooms as well as office space for security, communications and staff as necessary.
The State Department, the department that arranges such trips, has said in the past that hotel contracts and the like are supposed to be posted within 30 days if the cost exceeds $150,000. Occasionally this has included trips made by the first lady, such as her 2009 trip to Copenhagen to boost Chicago’s efforts to bring the Olympics to that city. It is unclear if this current trip to China will meet the requirements for contract disclosure.