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Pelosi Tightens Travel Rules

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has issued new rules for Congressional travel, establishing tighter restrictions on when Members can fly business class and cracking down on converting per diem payments to personal use.

In an announcement Friday, Pelosi said the new rules “are part of our continuing effort to ensure transparency and accountability in Congressional management.”

The Wall Street Journal reported in March that Members routinely pocket cash per diem payments when they travel abroad and use them for personal expenses.

In the new rules circulated to committee chairmen Thursday, Pelosi said: “Any per diem provided to Members or staff is intended to be expended for official purposes related to the trip. Excess funds are to be returned to the Treasury.”

The new rules also mandate that for commercial flights, Members and staff will only be approved for business-class travel for trips longer than 14 hours of flight time, though Members may seek special exemptions from this policy in writing.

The Speaker reiterated that personal office staffers are not permitted to travel, that spouses may travel only when necessary for protocol purposes and that foreign travel “should be authorized only when it is necessary to facilitate the work of the committee.”

Roll Call reported last month that Congressional travel abroad is paid for out of a bottomless Treasury Department account controlled by the State Department and that there are no limits that Congress has to keep in mind when arranging travel. Pelosi’s memo does not appear to change that arrangement. Roll Call estimated that this account covered about $15 million in overseas travel costs last year, which does not include the millions more spent by the Pentagon providing aircraft for Congressional delegations.

Pelosi also used the Friday release to announce the appointment of retired Air Force Lt. Col. Stacee Bako to the position of director of the Office of Interparliamentary Affairs, which oversees CODEL travel arrangements. Bako has been deputy director of that office since late last year.

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