CODEL / Congressional Delegation / Junket
Introduction of the U.S. Congressional Delegation
A trip abroad by a group of members of Congress, usually bi-partisan. Committees sponsor fact finding travel to countries or regions to obtain first-hand information on foreign policy issues. These missions are popularly called CODELS (congressional delegations). The importance of this travel is sometimes dismissed as a “junket,” connoting pleasure rather than work and waste rather than results.
Travel scandals are some of the most common ethical attacks in Washington because there is a gap between what is permitted by law and government rules, and what the media will choose to highlight and attack. Members of Congress, agency officials, even nonprofit heads can find themselves in perfect compliance with the law and regulations, yet still wind up all over the Internet on political blogs and on the front page of Roll Call or The Washington Post.
What Does Congress Do On Recess? | Ron’s Office Hours | NPR
To avoid any potential trouble, follow these rules:
- Don’t go anywhere sunny or fun. If the taxpayer or association member is paying the tab, you’re not supposed to be having fun, you’re supposed to be working. If you go on a fact-finding trip to Hawaii in December, bring home some macadamia nuts for the reporters who will be on your case for taking a government- or association-sponsored vacation.
- Don’t go anywhere outside the U.S. with indoor plumbing. For some inexplicable reason, the media has decided that no one should travel outside the United States. Any public figure taking a foreign trip will have his itinerary scrutinized, meal menu examined, and expense account audited by any reporter who sees the potential for a story here. The exception to this rule is travel to any place where reporters would not want to go themselves.
- Don’t go anywhere with spouses. This rule only applies to members of Congress, since no other government or non-government entity usually covers the costs of spouses’ travel. Surprisingly, members of Congress often do not understand why they shouldn’t be allowed to take their significant other on junkets. The media, in this case quite understandably, questions why it is necessary for a congressional wife to engage in shopping expeditions as the price for having the husband attend official meetings.
- Don’t use government planes or helicopters for personal use. Despite the ethics briefings that administration officials attend at the start of their tenure, some senior officials seem to think their time is so valuable that the use of a government aircraft is justified. Former President Bush’s Chief of Staff John Sununu ended up losing his job in part because he used a government plane to visit his dentist in Boston. Clinton White House aide David Watkins took a government helicopter to go golfing. And Bush administration Army Secretary Thomas White had questions raised about a trip he took on a military jet to meet with a real estate agent in Aspen (he said it was on the way to a meeting in Seattle).
- Don’t go on any trip without a full itinerary. A few years ago Senator Arlen Specter was criticized for asking the State Department to help him find a squash partner overseas so he could continue to exercise during an upcoming trip to Africa. While the trip had a lot of important meetings scheduled, the squash scandal was enough to raise questions about the whole trip, and the mission was aborted. When you’re traveling on someone else’s dime, you’re expected to work yourself to death.
2nd Panel Blasts GSA for Parties, Trips, Bonuses
- Don’t lose hundreds of iPads.
- Don’t let employees or staff post videos on the Internet challenging Congress or the administration to do something about the junket.
- Don’t let employees or staff go to strip clubs and brothels. (Hmmm, maybe you should take your spouse….)
Also see: Bipartisan; Case Work, Constituent; Congressional Pay and Perquisites; Exclusion / Disorderly Behaviour / Censure / Reprimand / Expulsion; Congressional Ethics; § 8.170 Congress and Foreign Policy: Nonbinding Actions, in Congressional Deskbook; § 12.11 Travel Advisory–How to Avoid Travel Scandals, in Media Relations Handbook; “The seven stages of the office seeker“.
- Google searches: Congressional Junket | Presidential junket | federal junket
- “The seven stages of the office seeker“
- House Committee on Ethics
- House Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE)
- Senate Select Committee on Ethics
- “Congressional Oversight Manual,” CRS Report RL30240 (114-page PDF)
- “The Use of Task Forces in the House,” CRS Report RS20421 (8-page PDF)
- “Congressional Gifts and Travel: Legislative Proposals for the 109th Congress,” CRS Report RL33237 (14-page PDF)
- “Travel Restrictions: U.S. Government Limits on American Citizens’ Travel Abroad,” CRS Report RS21003 (8-page PDF)
- “Casework in a Congressional Office,” CRS Report 98-878 (43-page PDF)
- “Disclosure of International Travel by Congress,” CRS In Focus IF10142 (3-page PDF)
- “Congressional Junkets Defended as Work-Based,” by Elizabeth Williamson, The Wall Street Journal, February 17, 2009
- “Despite ethics rules, Congress’ travel junkets creep back up,” by Fredreka Schouten, USA TODAY, November 11, 2011
- “Government Scandals May Threaten Las Vegas’ Growth,” by Andrew Sheivachman, Travel Agent Central, April 25, 2012
- “The Real Scandal of Congressional Junkets to Azerbaijan,” May 26, 2015, Freedom House
- “Taxpayers fund a first-class congressional foreign travel boom,” February 27, 2017, USA Today
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