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Cosponsor Efforts to Reform Congressional Foreign Travel
An Open Letter to the U.S. House of Representatives
September 15, 2010
On behalf of the 362,000 members of the National Taxpayers Union (NTU), I urge you to support H.R. 4447, the “STAY PUT” Act, and H.R. 5957, the Congressional Foreign Travel Reform Act. Both pieces of legislation, introduced by Representative Tim Johnson (R-IL), admirably aim to restore transparency and fiscal responsibility to a broken Congressional foreign travel operation.
There have been numerous reports within the past several months concerning Congressional delegation foreign trips (CODELs), centered upon the misuse of travel funds and lack of transparency in the process. According to a Roll Call article from July 2010, travel abroad has tripled over the past ten years, but between $30 and $40 million in travel costs have gone unreported. The bulk of the problem lies in the lack of an official and uniform collection procedure. Members are technically responsible for returning excess per diem, but this rule is not enforced. Furthermore, Members are supposed to complete a detailed disclosure of expended funds when they return from a CODEL, but the Congressional Research Service has said these disclosures are of “limited utility” since they are often filed late and filled with inaccuracies.
H.R. 4447 would implement a six-month moratorium on CODELs and require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study on the total amount Congress has spent on foreign travel since 1994. GAO would also be required to provide recommendations on how to make CODELs more transparent and fiscally responsible, thereby providing Congressional leadership with an appropriate gauge for improvement.
H.R. 5957 would create a formal mechanism for Members to return excess travel funds and would require them to post CODEL itineraries 14 days prior to leaving and a post-trip review within 14 days of their return.
We commend Representative Johnson for his work on this issue and implore you to cosponsor his legislation. Both bills would initiate a much-needed conversation concerning Congressional foreign travel reform and hold leaders more accountable to the people they serve. Any roll call votes on the STAY PUT Act and the Congressional Foreign Travel Reform Act will be significantly weighted in our annual Rating of Congress.