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Sweet: Obama’s post-presidential perks

President Barack Obama. | AP

Follow @lynnsweetWASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will open an office in Washington, D.C., after he leaves the White House on Jan. 20, and the Chicago-based Obama Foundation is considering opening a branch office here, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

“As a former president, President Obama will have office space in Washington, D.C., when he leaves office,” said Amy Brundage, an Obama spokeswoman, referring to the official office funded by taxpayers for former presidents.

The federal government covers the costs of offices and a small staff for former presidents, plus a pension and other compensation for travel, an acknowledgement of the role — albeit not official — former presidents serve after they are no longer in office.

For example, according to the General Services Administration, in FY2015, former President George W. Bush received $796,000 to cover health benefits, travel costs, office space, telephone costs, postage, printing costs, other services, supplies and materials, and equipment.

“This was the highest amount of any former President for that year,” the Congressional Research Service noted in a March 2016 report covering the federal benefits provided to former presidents and their widows.


Follow @lynnsweetAs a former president, Obama will receive a $205,700 annual pension — and that’s after just eight years on the job. The pension is paid monthly with eligibility beginning at noon on Jan. 20, after President-elect Donald Trump takes the oath of office. Obama will get his pension check monthly.

The Obama family is remaining in Washington after they move out of the White House, renting a home in the Kalorama neighborhood here. The family is staying in Washington until Sasha, 15, a sophomore at the private Sidwell Friends school here, graduates from high school.

So while Obama and first lady Michelle are locating their Obama Center, a library and museum complex, in Jackson Park on Chicago’s South Side, Obama’s taxpayer funded office, for now at least, will also remain in Washington.

The Washington Post reported that Obama is renting space in a building owned by an environmental group, the World Wildlife Fund, at 1250 24th St. NW, not far from the Kalorama residence.

First lady Michelle Obama will also open an office in D.C., likely sharing space with her husband.

Former presidents have no rules binding them when it comes to locating their taxpayer-funded offices. The General Services Administration is authorized to write rent checks for space anywhere in the U.S. The location does not have to be connected to the presidential library or foundation headquarters.

Former President Bill Clinton, for example, has a taxpayer-funded former president office in Harlem that is separate from the Clinton Foundation, also based in New York, and his presidential library and museum in Little Rock, Arkansas, which includes an apartment.

The same reasoning goes for the Obama Foundation, headquartered in a Harper Court office building in Hyde Park, contemplating opening a branch office in Washington while Obama is still based here. No taxpayer money goes to the Obama Foundation.

It is logical for the Obama Foundation to consider opening an office in D.C. to facilitate planning and fundraising for the Obama Center in order to be close to the former president and some key staffers.

Where the Obamas will set up residence after Sasha graduates is not known. It is possible the Obama Center in Jackson Park will include an apartment for the Obamas. It was an item listed in the preliminary bid document.

The Obamas own a mansion in Chicago’s Kenwood neighborhood, though they have rarely visited it during the almost eight years of the Obama presidency. There have been reports, not confirmed, that the Obamas also are interested in homes in Hawaii and Palm Springs.

On Friday, the Obama family departs for Honolulu. Each year — and this goes back way before Obama was in the White House — Obama takes his family to his native Hawaii to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s.

By staying in D.C., Obama will be the first former president since Woodrow Wilson left office in 1921 to maintain a main residence in Washington.

As a former president, Obama and Michelle will receive lifetime Secret Service protection. In 1994, Congress passed a law limiting Secret Service protection to 10 years for former presidents who entered office after Jan. 1, 1997.

On Jan. 10, 2013, Obama signed into law the “Former Presidents Protection Act of 2012” which reinstated Secret Service protection for life for all former presidents and their spouses. That includes former Presidents Jimmy Carter; George H.W. Bush; Bill Clinton; George W. Bush and their wives.

And Obama will be added to that roll call on Jan. 20.

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