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Ney, Lofgren Battling Over Questions on Travel

Normally congenial relations on the House Administration Committee have devolved into a tit-for-tat partisan dispute in recent weeks as lawmakers seek to answer lingering questions about the biennial funding request of the House Resources panel.

The quarrel centers over whether Resources Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) needs to answer questions posed by fellow California Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D) concerning the propriety of travel expenses submitted by his staff while the office was closed prior to the November 2004 elections.

In the mid-March budget hearing in which Lofgren initially raised the questions, Pombo declined to answer, asserting that he did not have the information on hand. Since then, lawmakers have exchanged a series of letters disputing whether the questions are within the committee’s purview.

The exchange began after the hearing, when Lofgren authored seven questions for Pombo, seeking detailed information on office policies, staff salaries, vacation records and travel documents including receipts and vouchers.

According to a transcript of the hearing provided by Lofgren’s office, Pombo had agreed to provide the information “for the record.”

House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) asserted, however, that Lofgren’s inquiries are not appropriate.

“These questions go beyond the scope of the subject matter of the hearing,” Ney wrote in a March 24 letter to Pombo that accompanied Lofgren’s questions. “Though you may answer them if you wish, you should be aware that no other Chair or Ranking Member has been asked or required to provide such information.”

Lofgren defended her queries in a March 29 letter to Ney stating, “serious questions were raised about the money spent by the Resources Committee in the 108th Congress,” and again pointing to travel expenses submitted following the 2004 election season.

“[Y]ou state in your letter that ‘no other Chair or Ranking Member has been asked or required to provide such information.’ This is a true statement,” Lofgren wrote. “Of course, the reason is because no other Committee Chair or Ranking Member has faced similar questions about their use of federal funds last year.”

In a response dated Friday, Ney pointed to a November 2003 Detroit Free Press article about campaign activity by aides to Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), who serves as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.

“Indeed, these questions seem even more serious than the ones you raise in that they include allegations of campaign activities being conducted in government office space and on government time, not during a leave period,” Ney wrote.

The letter later continued: “If you were previously unaware of these questions, but having been made aware are now concerned about them, I would be happy to forward any follow-up questions you may have to Mr. Conyers,” Ney wrote. “If your motivations are political, I am sure you can appreciate why I am unwilling to assist you.”

But Lofgren defended herself in a telephone interview Friday, calling Ney’s assertions “odd and disappointing.”

“This isn’t a personal issue,” Lofgren said.

Should Pombo elect to answer the questions, he must do so within 30 days of the hearing. But Resources spokesman Brian Kennedy noted that the lawmaker has not determined whether he will do so at all.

“The chairman had intended to answer all of the questions but after the latest episode in her charade, I’m not so sure,” Kennedy said.

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