For over three decades, lawmakers in Congress have had to disclose gifts of free travel on an annual financial disclosure form, which many watchdog groups and journalists use to monitor Members' privately-funded trips. Tracking those excursions, however, is likely going to be more difficult after the House Committee on Ethics recently decided to change the form, doing away with the travel report. While Representatives will still be required to report privately-funded travel to the Office of the Clerk of the House, the changes mean that the trips will no longer appear on the same form that notes most of the Members' other expenses.
According to Legistorm, lawmakers took over 1,900 trips in 2013 – over $6 million worth. That's a 60 percent increase in trips since 2008, the first full year after disclosure requirements were tightened in the wake of a scandal involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
National Taxpayer's Union Foundation has documented the taxpayer-funded travel of U.S. Presidents for many years, and although Congressional travel differs in some ways, one of the main takeaways from our most recent report is how little information we have regarding government-funded travel of any kind.
Although the House Committee on Ethics stated that the move was intended to streamline the travel disclosure process, taxpayers deserve easier access to travel information as Members of Congress take more privately-funded trips.
Special thanks to Ian Johnson for drafting this post.