When the president of the United States travels, the White House and the Secret Service bring along a tremendous amount of communications equipment. Not only does the Secret Service set up a command post to coordinate communications for the visits, but secure connections are also needed for the president to keep in touch with Washington and the military around the world in case of emergencies. Despite all of these arrangements, however, a total of $7,540 was spent for foreign-made cell phones for President Obama's recent trip to Ethiopia.
The phones were obtained via a contract signed on July 13, 2015 with a company in Ethiopia identified only as "Miscellaneous foreign awardees," the typical identifier for many overseas contracts with the U.S. government. The contract was handled by the State Department through the U.S. embassy in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. A compilation of screenshots from the contract is shown here:
It remains unclear exactly who used the cell phones during the Ethiopia visit, or what happened to the phones when the visit was over. After an initial response from the press office of the State Department about the contract, a state department spokesperson subsequently deferred to the White House, saying, "After speaking with my colleagues we think you should contact the WH Press Office for any comment on the President’s trip to Ethiopia."
The White House press office did not respond to a request for an explanation of the cell phone contract.