Ex-Im busts travel budget by $3M

Officials with the Export-Import Bank have exceeded their travel budget over the last three years by $3 million, according to disclosures filed to the House Financial Services Committee and obtained by The Hill.

In fiscal 2012, Ex-Im budgeted $1.7 for travel expenses but spent $2.7 million. In fiscal 2013, Ex-Im budgeted $1.2 million but spent $2.2 million. And in this fiscal year, Ex-Im budgeted $1.3 million but expects its end-of-year spending to total $2.3 million.

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Much of the recent travel appears designed to build public support for the bank, which is in danger of seeing its charter lapse.

Republicans are divided over whether Ex-Im, which provides financing for projects designed to increase U.S. exports, should be renewed. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the Financial Services chairman, argues the bank is a form of corporate welfare that should be killed off.

Export-Import Bank President Fred Hochberg and other officials are in the middle of a 10-state, 12-city nationwide tour to tout the benefits of the bank.

According to documents provided by Hochberg's office to the House panel, the chairman has already invoiced $74,160 in travel expenses during this fiscal year alone. That's more than 50 percent above the $48,718 his office spent the previous year.

Hochberg provided the accounting documentation for the bank's travel expenses to Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), the chairman of the House Financial Services subcommittee on oversight and investigations.

Ex-Im officials are meeting with current and potential exporters to tout the bank, while also holding seminars to educate the public about what it does. Stops are scheduled in Los Angeles, Phoenix, St. Louis, Houston and Birmingham as well as other cities throughout the August recess.

Hochberg said the travel is to help complete deals for the bank.

“The primary purpose associated with the Bank's travel related expenses support due diligence and monitoring efforts associated with a particular transaction (either under review or post authorized),” Hochberg wrote. “The other primary purpose for travel-related expenses is business development.”

Ex-Im spokesman Matthew Bevens told The Hill that the bank "has never exceeded its overall budget as set by Congress."

"What these figures reflect is a mid-year reallocation of funds within the existing budget, as undertaken by any prudently managed agency or private company, and funds were reallocated to travel expenses to ensure better monitoring and due diligence of Ex-Im’s existing portfolio," Bevens said.

He added that "through the fees and interest it charges its customers, Ex-Im Bank fully covers the costs of its operations and generates funds for U.S. taxpayers," which in 2013 totaled $1.057 billion.

Tea Partiers on the House Financial Services Committee have been sending letters to Ex-Im officials to get more information on the bank. Congress must reauthorize Ex-Im by Sept. 30 or it shuts down.

Centrist Republicans and most Democrats say Ex-Im helps sustain U.S. jobs while also keeping American businesses competitive in emerging markets. 

This story was updated at 3:47 p.m.