In fiscal year 2016, Congress spent at least $14.7 million on taxpayer-funded travel, with 557 overseas flights for Congress members or staffers costing more than $10,000 each.
Those pricey global trips accounted for 40 percent of all publicly reported individual congressional trips. According to Congress’ own accounting, the surge in foreign travel, combined with domestic trips, increased costs by 27 percent over the prior year.
But Congress’ figures represent a lower total than the one reported by the Treasury Department, which claims that congressional travel cost nearly $20 million last year. Treasury’s numbers are based on information provided by the State Department, which schedules travel for legislators.
Neither of the totals accounts for hundreds of additional trips for which the military provides transportation. The Pentagon absorbs the costs of flights for Congress members and staffers, figures which are never disclosed.
Legislators travel abroad for various reasons, such as meeting with foreign officials, checking in on U.S. military operations, and inspecting projects funded by the U.S. government; but members of Congress and their staffers do not pay for their own flights.
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The Treasury Department absorbs the costs of overseas congressional travel from available funds. Congress is not required to approve annual spending for foreign travel, and there is no limit on their global travel budget.
While some Congress members’ travel expenditures were questionably high, the remarkable cost increase in 2016 was somewhat intentional. The House and Senate Intelligence committees engaged in more foreign travel because new Republican committee chairmen wanted members to gain relevant information in the field.
After Representative Devin Nunes, R-Calif., assumed the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee in 2105, foreign travel costs for committee members increased from $1.1 million to $1.9 million.
“The increased spending results from a directive issued by Chairman Nunes for (committee) members to spend more time in the field,” said spokesman Jack Langer. “When dealing with intelligence issues, that’s really the crucial way to gain relevant information. Additionally, HPSCI travel costs tend to be relatively high because members often travel to unusual, hard-to-reach locations.”
The Senate Armed Services Committee spent more than any other committee, reporting $2.1 million in foreign travel costs, up $1.6 million from the prior year.
“In 2016, the global threat posed by ISIL and other terrorist groups, Russia’s destabilizing behavior in eastern Europe and military intervention in Syria, and China’s assertiveness in the East and South China Seas drove increasing demand for rigorous congressional oversight,” said committee spokesman Dustin Walker. “The American people expect their elected representatives to hold the executive branch accountable, not by taking its word, but by seeking out the ground truth wherever American blood and treasure are at risk.”
H/T: USA Today
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