DoD braces for a fight with Pelosi

Pentagon officials are bracing for a fight with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) over her desire to allow lawmakers’ adult children to tag along on taxpayer-funded travel for free.

Pelosi wants them to be able to fill the role of lawmakers’ spouses when the latter are unable to make a trip because of health issues or work commitments.

“It has been longstanding policy that, in the absence of a congressional spouse, the adult child of a member of Congress may accompany the member on official U.S. government travel abroad for protocol reasons and without reimbursing the U.S.
Treasury,” Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami said. “Speaker Pelosi believes that a modern policy must reflect the professional responsibilities or health realities that might prevent a spouse from participating, and instead permit an adult child to fulfill the protocol needs of the official trip.”

Pentagon officials say the policy is that the Treasury must be reimbursed at commercial rates for children who accompany members on such trips, often called codels.

Pelosi’s office inquired about such travel on June 1, according to a Department of Defense memo obtained by The Hill.
In a June 8 memo, the head of legislative affairs for the Pentagon, Robert L. Wilkie, told Defense Secretary Robert Gates that he sees Pelosi’s question as a first step toward challenging the policy.

“We were told that the Speaker would expect that members’ children (of married and unmarried [members of Congress]) would not have to reimburse the Treasury,” Wilkie wrote. “We expect future challenges from the House leadership on this policy.”

Pentagon aides did not respond to requests for comment.

But taxpayer watchdog groups and ethics advocates said they were surprised Pelosi would seek more perks for members.

“One of the things she was praised for when she came in was her sweeping reforms on gifts and travel,” said Craig Holman of Public Citizen. “It is very disheartening if she is, in fact, backsliding on this.”

Public Citizen filed a complaint with the IRS last year, saying that family members who receive free travel by accompanying lawmakers should pay taxes on the travel’s value. The complaint focused on privately sponsored travel, but Holman said it should apply to taxpayer-funded travel as well.

“I don’t see any difference,” Holman said.

In its first week with a Democratic majority this year, the House passed what Pelosi called “the toughest congressional ethics reform in history.” It forbade gifts and travel from lobbyists and banned travel on corporate jets. It did not address publicly funded travel such as codels.

Lawmakers’ children currently can travel gratis if they get a waiver, termed an “invitation,” from the secretary of defense, according to Dan Stanley, a former assistant secretary for legislative affairs at the Pentagon. He said it was rare for a lawmaker to travel with his or her children.

“Children have always flown as an exception to policy,” Stanley said. “I’m unaware of any substantial policy that would allow children to take the representational role of a spouse.”

The president’s family, such as President Bush’s twin daughters, can travel without reimbursement. They cannot fly commercially for security reasons.

But most executive-branch officials either do not bring family members on military aircraft or reimburse, Stanley said.
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would fly with his wife back to Taos, N.M., he said, but was scrupulous about reimbursing.