Official Travel Paid With Official Funds
Below is a condensed version of this topic; for complete guidance please refer to the House Ethics Manual, Chapter 3 on travel.
The term “official travel” refers to travel paid for or authorized by the House. Official travel includes travel paid for out of the Members’ Representational Allowance or with committee funds, as well as the travel of Members or staff abroad as part of a CODEL or a STAFFDEL.
The basic rules and regulations governing official travel paid for with funds from the Members’ Representational Allowance, or with committee funds, are established by the Committee on House Administration. Those rules are set forth in two publications of that committee – the Members’ Handbook, and the Committees’ Handbook. Guidance on those rules should be sought from the Committee on House Administration.
Official travel to a foreign country may be authorized by the Speaker under clause 10 of House Rule 1, or by a committee chair. Such travel is subject to the requirements set forth in 22 U.S.C. § 1754, as well as clause 8 of House Rule 10 (on funding of foreign travel), and clause 10 of House Rule 24 (prohibiting such travel by a Member not elected to a succeeding Congress after the general election or sine die adjournment).
Travel that is paid for or authorized by the House should not be reported on the 15-day Travel Disclosure Forms that are filed with the Clerk, or on one’s annual Financial Disclosure Statement.
Applicability of the Prohibition Against Private Subsidy of Official Activity
In General. As noted above, clauses 1-3 of House Rule 24 prohibit the acceptance of private support – both monetary and in-kind – for official House activities.34 Accordingly, as a general rule, travel the primary purpose of which is to conduct official business must be paid for or authorized by the House. Put another way, Members and staff may not accept expenses or in-kind support from a private source for such travel.
Travel Between Washington and One’s Own District. As was noted above, the Standards Committee interprets House Rule 24 generally to preclude the acceptance of expenses from a private source for a fact-finding trip to or within one’s own district. However, the Committee does not view the occasional acceptance of travel expenses to give a speech in one’s own district, or otherwise to participate substantially in an event, to violate House Rule 24. But if, for example, a Member were giving speeches at private expense in the home district every week, concerns would arise under the rule. In that circumstance, private sources would pay for a substantial amount of the Member’s travel to and from the district – travel that must, as a general rule, be paid with official House funds. In the 99th Congress, the Standards Committee found that a Member violated this rule when he accepted free flights on corporate aircraft for official travel.35 The Member subsequently reimbursed the corporation.
General Requirement That All Expenses of an Official Trip Be Paid With Official Funds. Pursuant to House Rule 24, a private source generally may not pay any portion of the expenses of a trip having an official purpose.
- Example 13. A committee chairman has decided to fund Member travel to a conference with committee funds. The sponsor of the conference offers to provide lodging and meals for the Members without charge. The sponsor’s offer may not be accepted. Because official funds are to be used to pay for the airfare, the trip is deemed an official activity. Thus, acceptance of the sponsor’s offer would violate the prohibition against private subsidy of official activities.
- Example 14. A Member plans to travel to a conference using MRA funds. The sponsor of the conference invites a staff person of that Member to travel to the event at the sponsor’s expense. The staff person may not travel to the conference at the expense of the sponsor. Because the Member will be traveling on official funds, the participation of that office in the conference is an official activity, and the staff person could travel to it at official expense only.
However, as a general matter, a Member or staff person would not violate House Rule 24 by accepting, while on official travel, food or refreshments that the individual may otherwise accept under the gift rule, for example:
- A meal provided by a foreign government that is acceptable under the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act;
- A meal that is part of a privately-sponsored, “widely attended” event;
- A meal offered in a private residence as personal hospitality (but not from a registered lobbyist or foreign agent);
- A meal that is provided by an individual on the basis of personal friendship;
- Food or refreshments, including a meal, offered by the management of a site being visited, on that business’s premises, and in a group setting with employees of the organization; or
- Food or refreshments of nominal value, not offered as part of a meal, at a privately-sponsored reception.
The various provisions of the gift rule that allow the acceptance of these items of food or refreshments are detailed in Chapter 2 on gifts.
As also detailed in Chapter 2, the Committee has determined that a Member or staff person does not violate House Rule 24 by accepting, while on official travel, certain incidental, privately provided transportation. Specifically, a Member or staff person may accept local transportation, outside the District of Columbia, provided by the management of a site being visited in the course of official duties, between the airport or other terminus and the site.
However, privately-sponsored travel that is greater than incidental – e.g., travel from one city or one country to another (including meals) – is subject to a different rule. While on official travel, a Member or staff person may be permitted to accept such privately-sponsored travel only if the travel has a purpose that is entirely different from that of the official travel.
- Example 15. A CODEL is in Germany examining the state of aircraft technology in Europe. A privately owned aircraft manufacturer in France learns of the CODEL and offers to fly the delegation to view its facilities. The manufacturer’s offer will not be approved by the Committee.
- Example 16. The same CODEL referred to in Example 15 receives an offer from a shipbuilding company in France to view its facilities. Because this side trip would have a purpose entirely distinct from that of the official travel, the Committee would approve the Members’ pre-travel approval request following the private sponsor’s certification to the usual limits and restrictions on privately funded fact-finding.
Use of the Government Rate
The Standards Committee understands that under contracts with the airlines, hotels, and car rental companies that establish the “government rate,” that rate is available only for official travel. Accordingly, as a general matter, the government rate can be used only when the travel of a Member, officer, or employee is to be paid for with official funds, and is not available when the travel is to be paid for with, for example, the funds of a private organization or campaign funds. Furthermore, as a general matter, a House office may not use the government rate for the travel of anyone other than a Member, officer, or employee. Thus the rate is not available for the travel of, for example, the spouse or a child of one of those officials. Information on use of the government rate is also available from the staff of the Committee on House Administration.
The Committee has also issued a general gift rule waiver permitting Members to make multiple reservations for official travel if offered by an airline. See February 21, 2008 Committee Memorandum on Multiple Reservations on Commercial Flights.
Use of Frequent Flier Miles Earned Through Official Travel
The rule on the use of frequent flier miles and similar benefits earned through official travel was established by the Committee on House Administration and is set forth in the Members' Handbook and the Committees’ Handbook. The rule is as follows:
Free travel, mileage, discounts, upgrades, coupons, etc. awarded at the sole discretion of a company as a promotional award may be used at the discretion of the Member or the Member's employee. The Committee [on House Administration] encourages the official use of these travel promotional awards wherever practicable.
Information on use of frequent flier miles earned through official travel is available from the Committee on House Administration staff.
34 Prior to the recodification of the rules that occurred at the beginning of the 106th Congress, these provisions of the rules were numbered as House Rule 45.
35 House Comm. on Standards of Official Conduct, Investigation of Travel on Corporate Aircraft Taken by Representative Dan Daniel, H. Rep. 99-470, 99th Cong., 2d Sess. (1986).