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Spending Up From Last Congress in Four Committees

While most House committees have trimmed spending over the first three months of this year, four committees have spent more money so far than they did at the start of the last Congress, each for a different reason.

The Oversight and Government Reform Committee has seen costs rise after a quick slew of hearings. The Ethics Committee has added staffers. The Judiciary Committee has spent more upfront on database subscriptions. And the Ways and Means Committee is spending more on salaries.

Through March, spending by House panels, excluding the Appropriations Committee, is down by about 9 percent compared to the same time frame in the 111th Congress, according to an analysis of monthly committee reports that were submitted to the House Administration Committee.

Committees have spent more than $27 million this year, compared with the $30 million they spent through March 2009.

A significant portion of the savings comes from the elimination of the Energy and Global Warming Committee, which spent close to $450,000 in the first three months of 2009. Nearly $80,000 more was saved by shifting transit benefit payments, formerly shouldered by the committees, to the budget of the House Chief Administrative Officer.

Though most committees are spending less so far this year, the 9 percent decrease is shaped by a few outliers, which are spending much less or slightly more than their predecessors.

The largest increase comes from the Ethics Committee, which spent more than $561,000 through March 2011 — roughly $117,000 more than it did from January 2009 through March 2009.

The increase is no surprise, since the committee has more money to spend this year than it did in 2009. The change came after several Member-driven ethics scandals and a leadership decision to staff up the committee’s investigative resources.

By the end of March 2009, the committee had just 17 employees, whereas through March 2011, 20 staffers worked for the Ethics Committee — before they had even hired Staff Director Daniel Schwager.

The Ways and Means Committee spent slightly more than $2 million through March, about $116,000 more than in the same time frame last Congress. Like Ethics, the increase comes mostly from salaries, though the Ways and Means authorization is less this year than it was in 2009.

In a joint statement, the Ways and Means Committee leaders said they will stay within their budget.

“On any given date and time numbers and categories will fluctuate,” the emailed statement said. Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and ranking member Sander Levin (D-Mich.) “requested and were granted a five percent reduction to the Committee budget and are on track to meet these budget numbers over the course of the Congress.”

The Oversight and Government Reform Committee spent about $2.08 million through March, which translates to about $90,000 more than was spent by March 2009. Many of the increased costs come from personnel and supplies.

The reason, Chairman Darrell Issa’s spokesman Frederick Hill said, is that the California Republican started the 112th Congress more quickly than his predecessor, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.). Towns took over in the 111th Congress from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who became head of the Energy and Commerce Committee and took many of his staffers with him.

“It’s the contrast in how the two committees got started in the Congresses that explains the difference,” Hill said. “They didn’t have their first committee hearing until Feb. 26, 2009. By that time with Mr. Issa as chairman, he had already had eight hearings.”

The Judiciary Committee spent about $1.8 million through March, about $44,000 more than the committee had spent by that time in the 111th Congress.

A large chunk of that increase comes from database subscriptions. The committee paid for two-year subscriptions to LexisNexis, Westlaw and CQ (a sister publication of Roll Call), among other magazines and newspapers, whereas the previous committee expensed subscriptions monthly.

“The majority of these different expenses are transition costs,” a committee staffer said. “We frontloaded as much of our costs as we could.”

A few committees are so far spending drastically less than their predecessors. Both the Natural Resources and the Education and Workforce committees are spending less by at least 25 percent.

The Natural Resources Committee has spent $410,000 less over the first three months of 2011. But that reflects more than anything the process of staffing up a committee after a transition, a spokesman for Chairman Doc Hastings said.

The Washington Republican “has always been frugal with taxpayer dollars, including in his personal office,” spokeswoman Crystal Feldman said. “However, part of the committee’s savings in the first three months reflects the ongoing process of hiring new staff.”