House to Address Spending Improprieties and Improve Reporting

Tomorrow, the Committee on House Administration will hold a markup on a resolution that governs member spending. As Politico explains, the “sweeping changes” to how Members of Congress spend money was prompted by stories on former Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL), who reportedly misspent public money redecorating his office, filing inappropriate requests for travel reimbursements, and other misdeeds. Shock is under federal investigation.

The House formed a special task force, composed of Reps. Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), to tighten up reporting and disclosure rules. Demand Progress and representatives from other organizations were consulted by the task force as it considered recommendations.

If enacted, the resolution would:

Travel

  • Allow private/charter flights only when no commercial is alternative.
  • Prohibit private/charter flights between D.C. and anywhere else, without prior written authorization.
  • Permit private/charter flights between non-D.C. locations, but require written approval if the cost for the entire itinerary exceeds $7,500.
  • Set maximum reimbursement rates for privately-owned and privately-leased vehicles. Limit reimbursement to vehicles owned by the Member or employee.

Office

  • Require prior written approval for decorating expenses or furniture that exceeds $5,000 per item.

Reporting and Compliance

  • Instruct CAO to submit a proposal by Nov. 21 to publish House expenditure reports as digital spreadsheets, replacing the current PDF scan of tabular data. (This is a big deal for watchdogs!)
  • Instruct CAO to submit a proposal to retire “travel subsistence” as a catch-all reporting code, hopefully to be replaced with finer-grained reporting.
  • Require CAO to report on its internal controls and training regarding voucher reimbursements by Nov. 21.

We are particularly excited that the Committee will consider — and hopefully approve — the publication of House Expenditure Reports in an electronic format. Instead of publishing hundreds of pages of tables as a giant PDF, the House would now publish that information as a digital spreadsheet. (Of course, the House’s decision a few years back to publish the information online at all, even as a PDF, was a step forward.) This will allow watchdogs and others to easily review and analyze spending information.

We are still digesting the other proposals, but they are a welcome improvement. We commend the hard work of Reps. Davis and Lofgren and look forward to tomorrow’s meeting.