How Much Did That Obama Bus Cost?

President Barack Obama began traveling the United States in a shiny new, state-of-the-art armored bus in August 2011 as he began his campaign for re-election. So how much did that Obama bus, nicknamed "Ground Force One" by some pundits, actually cost?

A whopping $1.1 million.

The U.S. Secret Service purchased the Obama bus from Whites Creek, Tenn.-based Hemphill Brothers Coach Co. so the president could safely travel the country in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, the agency told several media outlets.

"We've been overdue for having this asset in our protective fleet for some time," Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan told Politico. "We've been protecting presidential candidates and vice presidential candidates all the way back to the 1980s using buses during bus tours."

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How Much Did That Obama Bus Cost?

Barak Obama relaxing in his 2008 campaign tour bus
Charles Ommanney / Getty Images

The Obama bus is unremarkable save for its occupant. The luxury vehicle is painted plain black and isn't stamped with a single campaign or White House logo because it is considered part of the federal government's fleet.

And even though the government's contract for the buses was with a Tennessee firm, the coach's shell was designed in Canada, by the Quebec firm Prevost, according to The Vancouver Sun. The bus model, H3-V45 VIP, is 11 feet, 2 inches high and has 505 cubic feet of interior space.

The U.S. government then fitted the Obama bus with "secret communications technology" and flashing police-style red and blue lights on the front and the back, the paper reported. Onboard, too, are codes to the country's nuclear arsenal.

The Obama bus, like the president's armored Cadillac, is also probably equipped with a highly technical fire suppression system and tanks of oxygen and could likely withstand a chemical attack, according to The Christian Science Monitor. Bags of Obama's blood are said to be on board in the event of a medical emergency, too.

The Contract For the Obama Bus

The Obama campaign does not have to pay for the cost of the buses or their use, Secret Service officials told the media. Obama began using the bus in the summer of 2011 to travel the country and hold town hall-style meetings, were discussed the nation's poor economy and job creation.

There are, however, a couple of things you should know about the bus: It's not just for Obama. And there's another luxury coach just like it, for use by the Republican nominee in the 2012 presidential race.

The Secret Service contract with the Hemphill Brothers Coach Co. was actually for two armored buses, and a total of $2,191,960, according to federal government procurement records.

The Secret Service planned to use the buses beyond the presidential race, for other dignitaries. Though the agency's most important mission is to protect the leader of the free world, the Secret Service never had its own buses before Obama was president.

The agency leased buses instead and equipped them to protect the president.

Criticism of Obama Bus

The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, criticized Obama for riding around in a bus that was made partly in another country while the United States continues to endure high unemployment.

"We think this is an outrage that taxpayers of this country would have to foot the bill so the campaigner in chief can run around in his Canadian bus and act as if he's interested in creating jobs in our country that needed them when he's been ignoring the issue while he's been in the White House," Priebus told reporters.

"He should spend more time in the White House doing his job rather than riding around on his Canadian bus," Priebus said.

Rupert Murdoch's New York Post, meantime, took issue for the same reason, quipping in a headline: "Canucklehead Obama bus-ted!" "President Obama is barnstorming the heartland to boost US jobs in a taxpayer-financed luxury bus the government had custom built - in Canada," the paper reported.

Neither Priebus nor the Post, however, mentioned the fact that former President George W. Bush campaigned aboard a bus made partly by the same Quebec firm during his 2004 "Yes, America Can" tour across the country.

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But Who Drove Ground Force One?

While the “Passenger in Chief” of Ground Force One rode in the spotlight of political superstar status, the exact identity of the coach’s driver remains unknown. However, we do know for a fact that the driver was an officer of U.S. Army Transportation Agency serving in the White House Transportation Agency (WHTA), perhaps the most visible federal agency no one ever heard of.

First organized by Capt. Archibald Willingham Butt, the WHTA has been providing the drivers of White House fleet vehicles since 1909, when the “fleet” consisted of a 1909 White Steamer, a 1908 Baker electric, two 1908 Pierce-Arrow Vandelettes, and two motorcycles ridden by Secret Service agents. Originally a weekend-only operation, the modern WHTA runs around-the-clock to provide U.S. Army noncommissioned officer “master drivers.”

According to its mission statement, “The WHTA provides a fleet of motor vehicles, master drivers, and transportation services to the First Family, White House staff, and official visitors of the First Family in the Washington D.C., area.” In addition, the WHTA provides a wide range of support services for all sorts of presidential ground transportation including motorcades and cargo handling for the president and people who travel with the president both inside the U.S. and abroad, as directed by the White House Military Office.

The soldiers of the WHTA work closely with the Secret Service, State Department, U.S. embassy representatives, various other agencies and the president's staff to ensure safe and efficient travel for U.S. presidents and all who travel with them wherever and whenever they go.

As you might expect, the master drivers of the WHTA undergo extreme training before taking the presidential wheel for real. “The Soldiers arrive, and they get their basic briefings and training on policies, and some of it is typical. But they also get the White House Transportation Agency-specific mission training and familiarization training with the Secret Service,” WHTA deputy director Sgt. Maj. David Simpson told U.S. Army reporter Carrie McLeroy. “That's when they start to realize where they are.” 

The Beast

Not quite as big as a bus, the United States presidential state car, nicknamed “the Beast,” is one of the world’s most daunting vehicles. Built by General Motors and visually resembling a Cadillac Escalade sedan, the current Beast is a 20,000-pound, 18-foot-long luxury tank with protective features and specs that would meet with the approval of James Bond. The black sedan is part of a fleet of 12 cars that cost 1.5 million dollars each. The current model of the presidential state car is a unique Cadillac that debuted on September 24, 2018, with a presidential trip to New York City.

United States presidents embraced automotive technology in the early 20th century when President William Howard Taft's administration purchased four cars and had the White House stables converted into a garage. Presidents rode in stock, unmodified cars until President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration bought the “Sunshine Special,” the first presidential state car to be built to United States Secret Service standards. Until the assassination of John F. Kennedy, presidential state cars frequently allowed the president to ride uncovered and exposed to the public. President Kennedy's assassination began a progression of increasingly armored and sealed cars. The current Beast car has five-inch-thick (13 cm) bulletproof glass and is hermetically sealed with its own environmental system.

Business Insider reported in 2019 that the Beast is built on a GM truck chassis. In addition to defensive measures designed to protect the president, this state car also has stores of blood in the president's type for medical emergencies. The car is hermetically sealed against fluid attacks and features run-flat tires, night-vision devices, smoke screens, and oil slicks as defensive measures against attackers. NBC reported that the car features armor made of aluminum, ceramic, and steel; the exterior walls have a thickness of eight inches (200 mm), the windows are multi-layered and five inches (130 mm) thick, and each door—believed to weigh as much as those on a Boeing 757—can electrify its handles to prevent entry.

If you were thinking of buying a used Beast, forget it. Decommissioned presidential limos are dismantled and destroyed with the assistance of the Secret Service to prevent their secrets from being known to outside parties. Recent presidential motorcades have consisted of 24–45 vehicles other than the presidential state car, including vehicles for security, healthcare, the press, and route-clearing, among others.

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Murse, Tom. "How Much Did That Obama Bus Cost?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Murse, Tom. (2023, April 5). How Much Did That Obama Bus Cost? Retrieved from Murse, Tom. "How Much Did That Obama Bus Cost?" ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).