Due to confusion about what a limousine is, the General Services Administration has had a hard time counting its limos in recent years, but now insists a new definition will accurately account for the fleet of government agency-owned luxury vehicles.
Last year, the GSA estimated the number of government agency limousines at 412, amounting to a 73 percent increase between 2008 and 2010, according to iWatch News.
The statistic was touted by conservatives as an excessive indulgence in tough economic times and as an irresponsible use of taxpayer money under the Obama administration.
Two months after the rise was reported in May 2011, the GSA changed the definition of “limousine” to exclude such vehicles as shuttle buses and sedans, previously classified as limos.
When the GSA released its 2011 fleet report last month, limos were shown to have decreased 62 percent to only 158, iWatch reported.
The State Department, under Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, reduced its limo count the most, to just 50 after reporting 259 in 2010.
In releasing the 2010 fleet report, GSA officials admitted the limo numbers in the report were not reliable, according to iWatch.
“The categories in the fleet report are overly broad, and the term ‘limousine’ is not defined,” a GSA spokeswoman said in 2010. She determined that GSA “cannot say that its report accurately reflects the number of limousines.”
A memo dated July 2011 provided GSA officials with a new definition for “limousine.”
Under the new definition, only vehicles with “a lengthened wheelbase” are considered limousines. Privacy panels, designated drivers and amenities not commonly found in “commercial-design sedans” are listed as common limousine characteristics.
The Department of Homeland Security had the most limos in 2011, with 106. The State Department’s 50 limos place it second, followed by the Justice Department’s one limo. Most of the DHS’s limos are operated by the Secret Service to “transport dignitaries, people we are required by law to protect,” Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan told iWatch.
Only the Navy added a limo to its fleet.
It’s not clear if the GSA changed the limousine definition to fix an accounting error or to reduce the number of limos for political purposes.
Spokeswoman Leslie Paige of Citizens Against Government Waste has her doubts.
“I can see if the [definition] issue is between a town car and a limo,” she said. “But not shuttle buses. It doesn’t make sense.”
GSA spokesman Adam Elkington told iWatch that although the data cannot be compared to past years, “going forward … the data will be much more accurate year to year.”