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Ethics Warns Members, Staff on Travel Deadline

The House ethics committee issued a terse, one-page warning on Thursday asking Members and staff to allow the panel a minimum of 30 days to pre-screen and approve private travel requests — a request that many appear to have ignored since the new House rules took effect earlier this year.

“Notwithstanding this request, the Committee has repeatedly received requests far short of that 30-day deadline, including many merely a day or two before a trip was scheduled to begin,” wrote House Standards of Official Conduct Chairwoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) and ranking member Doc Hastings (R-Wash.). “Given the volume of travel requests received, the Committee cannot guarantee a response to any trip request submitted less than 30 days prior to the trip’s departure date.”

Failure to receive the ethics committee’s stamp of approval before embarking on a private trip is now a violation of House rules.

The new travel guidelines were adopted in the House rules package at the beginning of the 110th Congress as part of the new Democratic majority’s pledge to institute tougher ethics standards. The travel rules took effect March 1.

With few exceptions, Members are no longer allowed to travel with registered lobbyists, accept travel from organizations that employ lobbyists or allow lobbyists to play any role in planning the trip.

To comply with the new rules, the House ethics committee has expanded its responsibilities to become the new clearinghouse for travel requests, requiring the Member or staffer, and the event sponsor, to submit forms explaining the costs and need for the trip prior to the departure date.

Members and aides also must file a post-travel disclosure form no later than 15 days after their return with the House Clerk’s office, which makes the records public. Members and staff also are required to disclose private travel on their annual financial disclosure forms, but that rule was in place before the new reforms were approved this year.

While the ethics committee had offered general guidelines in two earlier advisories to submit travel requests 30 days in advance, the June 20 memo issued a stricter call to adhere to the deadline. “That 30-day time period is necessary to allow the Committee ample time to review the submission and give final approval, while still permitting sufficient time for the traveler to make travel arrangements,” the committee wrote.

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