The House Appropriations Committee voted Tuesday to send the electric bill for the vice president's residence at the U.S. Naval Observatory to the Navy instead of to the executive branch. Press accounts estimated the cost of this year's bill at $186,000. Why is the veep's electric bill so high?
The average Washington, D.C., residential customer pays less than $700 for electricity each year. But the vice president's electrical needs exceed those of your average apartment dweller. The Navy encourages reporters to think of the vice president's three-story residence as a small business, not a home. The 33-room, approximately 10,000-square-foot residence on Massachusetts Avenue contains not only the veep's living quarters, but also communications equipment and security systems that must function 24 hours a day, as well as surveillance lights that glow all night long. The local power company doesn't have an estimate for its average commercial customer.
The $186,000 estimate is overstated, according to the Navy. The Navy's most recent estimate for the vice president's fiscal 2001 electric bill is $110,821, about $9,000 a month.
So where did the $186,000 estimate come from? USA Today attributed the $186,000 to "House Democrats." White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told the Associated Press it was created by doubling the bill for the first half of fiscal 2001. But that can't be right because the bill for the first half of the fiscal year was less than $60,000.
Bonus Explainer: Why does the vice president live on Navy property? For most of American history, the vice president didn't have an official residence. In 1966, Congress passed a bill to build a house for the vice president, but the project was never funded adequately. So in July 1974, Congress designated what had previously been the residence of the chief of naval operations as the vice president's temporary residence. A permanent residence has yet to be built, so the house at the U.S. Naval Observatory remains, officially, "The Temporary Official Residence of the Vice President of the United States."
Gerald Ford was the first vice president eligible to live at the Naval Observatory, but Richard Nixon's resignation made Ford president before he could move in. Ford's vice president, Nelson Rockefeller, preferred his posh digs on Foxhall Road to the official residence, so he never moved in. The first veep to live at the Naval Observatory was Jimmy Carter's vice president, Walter Mondale. Unlike the White House, the vice president's residence is closed to the public.
Explainer thanks Navy spokesman Lt. Doug Spencer; Pepco spokesman Bob Dobkin;U.S.Naval Observatory spokesman Geoff Chester; Gail Cleere, author of The House on Observatory Hill; and Slate reader Lisa Wiland for asking the question.