Panetta Feels Bad About $800K in Flights He's Taken Defense secretary is open to 'alternatives' By Evann Gastaldo, Newser Staff Posted Apr 17, 2012 11:40 AM CDT 15 comments Comments In this Feb. 14, 2012 file photo, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) (Newser) – Leon Panetta has taken at least 27 trips home to California since becoming secretary of defense in July, which have cost taxpayers more than $800,000 in all—but he does feel bad about it. The Pentagon chief expressed his regrets at a Pentagon briefing yesterday and said he is open to "alternatives," but gave no hint that he would stop the weekend trips. "For 40 years that I’ve been in this town, I’ve gone home because my wife and family are there and because, frankly, I think it’s healthy to get out of Washington periodically just to get your mind straight and your perspective straight," he said. The Washington Post notes that Panetta paid for trips home himself while he served in Congress and in the Clinton administration, but as defense secretary, government rules require him to fly on military aircraft with secure communications. He is required to reimburse the government for the cost of a round-trip commercial flight each time, but that has only added up to around $17,000 while his trips have cost around $860,000, the AP notes. The issue is a bit contentious, considering the budget concerns the Pentagon is dealing with, but Panetta often makes stops for official business on his way to or from California—and works while he's there, too.