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Garamendi’s ‘Learning Tour’ of Africa Comes in at $40,000

World traveler Rep. John Garamendi is gaining on fellow Rep. Jim McDermott.

Coming in at just more than $40,000, Garamendi’s recent four-day trip to South Sudan and Tanzania rivals McDermott’s $45,000 trip last year to Jakarta, Indonesia. Both Garamendi’s and McDermott’s trips were funded by international development organizations — CARE in Garamendi’s case and Chemonics in McDermott’s.

LegiStorm first reported the jaw-dropping price tag for Garamendi and his wife’s four-day privately funded trip. It was part of one of CARE’s Learning Tours, which the group organizes four times a year. The tours bring influential people — members of Congress, private sector leaders, media and others — to a country in the global south that receives foreign aid, both private and publicly funded. The Learning Tours are funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

For the Garamendis, flying from San Francisco to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Juba, South Sudan; and Morogoro, Tanzania on Ethiopian Airlines, KLM Airlines and various charted flights set the development organization back $35,000. The bulk of this expense was the price of the business class flights, since, according to CARE’s policy, high-level delegation members and sometime their “plus ones” get to fly business class to some remote, and sometimes dangerous, locations.

Sadly, the business-class flight perk doesn’t extend to congressional staffers or CARE staffers. The little people must fly coach.

Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., and her legislative director were on this trip, as well, though at significantly lower cost. The congresswoman’s trip, including her business-class ticket, came in at a relatively reasonable $8,583.34, while her staffer’s trip cost $6,622.34.

The price difference comes down to McCollum and her staffer signing on to the trip late, being booked on a different airline and leaving from a different hub.

Also on the trip were two staffers from the Senate Agriculture Committee and some VIPs, included Ret. Gen. Wesley Clark and a reporter from The Nation.

It is important to note that this was not a luxury trip in a fancy locale. These bipartisan learning tours are “to give [participants] a better understanding of why U.S. foreign assistance, programs matter, how programs are implemented, what innovative, evidence-based solutions accomplish, and who benefits the most,” wrote CARE’s head of policy in the introduction to the 120-page South Sudan/Tanzania trip briefing.

This tour to South Sudan and Tanzania was designed to educate the delegation on the importance of food and nutrition security in combating poverty, comparing the programs and realities of the two nations.

“The Congressman’s privately funded visit to South Sudan and Tanzania did not cost the U.S. taxpayer a single dime,” said Garamendi’s spokesman, Matthew Kravitz. “But it did provide him with valuable information in his role as a member of Congress and a member of the House Agriculture, Transportation, and Armed Services committees.”

Kravitz said the congressman “was able to see America’s development programs, agricultural assistance, and peace building work first-hand in some of the poorest parts of the world.”

“This assistance supports American agricultural jobs through the government’s purchase of American crops and technical assistance,” Kravitz continued. “As top military leaders have repeatedly said, development advances America’s national security by preventing instability and the potential need for American intervention. The East Africa visit also provided the Congressman the opportunity to ensure the integrity and effectiveness of these programs.”

Patricia Garamendi, the congressman’s wife, served as associate director of the Peace Corps and as deputy administrator for International Cooperation and Development at the Foreign Agricultural Service, an agency in the Agriculture Department.

According their office, the couple have been devoted to international development for decades, even completing their Peace Corps service together.

The Garamendis and the delegation met with the vice president of South Sudan and the president of Tanzania.

“They discussed economic development, security, the ivory trade, the Lord’s Resistance Army and other matters,” Kravitz said. “The director of USAID joined the delegation in Tanzania to meet with the vice president and to present USAID projects in that country.”

“Again,” Kravitz reiterated, “in no way was this [an] important fact-finding mission done with taxpayer resources.”

This isn’t the first time a member of congress has participated in the learning tours. Others include Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill.

Schock’s 2010 trip to Ethiopia was conduit for his work with McCollum to pass legislation requiring the United States to “develop a comprehensive strategy to prevent child marriage in developing countries.” The legislation passed in February 2013 as part of the Violence Against Women Act. Schock cites his CARE learning tour as the inspiration behind the legislation.

The next CARE Learning Tour is scheduled for May 2013. This time the group is off to Malawi.

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