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Velázquez Missed Travel Reports

Former House Small Business Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez recently filed disclosure reports for thousands of dollars worth of international travel that she had failed to report for several years.

In the March 9 Congressional Record, the New York Democrat filed expense reports for official committee travel to Africa, South America, Europe and the Middle East for trips taken in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The travelers included Velázquez and other committee members, and the reports document expenses of more than $15,000 for the trips.

Members and staffers who travel overseas as part of a Congressional delegation must give an itemized report of their expenses to the committee chairman who authorized the trip no later than 60 days after it is completed.

These reports must include “the dates each country was visited, the amount of per diem furnished, the cost of transportation furnished” and “other funds expended for official purposes,” according to the House Administration Committee’s handbook.

Committee chairmen then consolidate reports of foreign travel and submit them each quarter to the Clerk of the House, who publishes the information in the Congressional Record.

Velázquez’s late reports were a simple paperwork error, her office said Friday.

“This is nothing more than a clerical oversight that has been corrected,” a committee spokesman said. The spokesman did not explain how Velázquez realized the reports had never been filed. She is now the ranking member of the committee.

The expenses that show up in the Congressional Record reflect costs paid by the State Department, which is then reimbursed from an account at the Treasury Department that has no spending limit. The itemized costs generally do not reflect the total amount spent on the trip. Overtime for embassy staff who help host the travelers, baggage handling fees and other costs are covered by the State Department and are generally not reported, though the committee handbook directs that all costs should be disclosed.

The oldest trips reported by Velázquez in March were from the summer of 2007, when Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) went on a Congressional trip that July headed by then-Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.) to Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia. Velázquez the next month traveled to Tunisia, Turkey, Croatia and Germany. The total expense for the two trips was $5,331, according to the Congressional Record reports.

The next summer, the State Department was reimbursed $2,455 for trips taken by Velázquez, Chabot and Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) to Morocco, Kenya, the Netherlands, Germany and Chad.

In November of that year, Velázquez’s per diem expenses were about $2,300 during a trip to Peru, Chile and Paraguay as part of an eight-member delegation led by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.). Engel’s expenses for that trip, which were the same amounts as those reported by Velázquez, were disclosed by the Foreign Affairs Committee in February 2009.

The fourth trip that Velázquez disclosed March 9 was taken in April 2009 and included stops in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Italy. The per diem costs for the 10-day excursion were $5,274. Velázquez spent five nights in Italy following a 6.3-magnitude earthquake in the country’s central region that killed several hundred people.

Velázquez’s office confirmed its CODEL disclosures are now up to date but declined to discuss any further details of the trips, such as the purpose of the travel or the itineraries.

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