WRAL Investigates

Triangle delegation defends travel as part of the job

Posted November 18, 2009 6:00 p.m. EST
Updated November 18, 2009 7:02 p.m. EST

— Triangle area U.S. representatives traveled the globe in the past three years, a WRAL search of Congressional Records show.

Members of the local delegation flew to Iraq, visited leaders in Afghanistan and joined fact finding missions to countries like Russia. Congressmen toured African countries like Kenya and surveyed poverty in Haiti. Global warming research also landed a delegation in Antarctica.

U.S. Rep. David Price, D-4th, chairman of the House Democracy Partnership, recently returned from trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“We do that because it’s in the U.S. national interest,” Price said.

“We have a partnership that's aimed at not just talking, but actually empowering these parliaments,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Brad Miller said he turned down an invitation to the exotic Galapagos Islands last year.

“I do look at the appearances. I tend to go to places that you would not think of as a vacation destination,” Miller said.

Reporters with “Inside Edition” followed representatives and their families to the islands and documented them staying at an exclusive hotel, diving on coral reefs and shopping.

“I was very happy that I had decided that trip was not one that I wanted to go on,” Miller said.

Miller defends the globe hopping done by the Triangle delegation in recent years to places like Peru, Brazil, Israel, Ghana and Egypt.

As a ranking member of the Science and Technology Committee, Miller studied global warming in Greenland. After visiting the slums in Nairobi, Kenya, he filed legislation to reevaluate U.S. aid to address urban plight.

“It’s to help me do my job, not to get a benefit,” Miller said.

“Lawmakers say that these are important fact finding missions and we don't disagree. But, they should be sharing those facts, the facts of their trip with the public,” said Steve Ellis, of the non-partisan group Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Ellis said Congressional travel is tough to track because it’s scattered and incomplete.

The Congressional Record, the official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress, shows reports of per diem expenses without specific breakdown and excludes the costs of flights, because jets are supplied by the military.

WRAL News searched the Congressional Record and found lawmakers reporting thousands of dollars for unspecified per diem.

“At the end of the day, it's our money that is paying for these trips. Again, we're not saying they shouldn't go, but they should then tell their investors, the American people, the taxpayer how they're spending their cash,” Ellis said.

“We need to make sure that it’s (The Congressional Record) more user-friendly,” Price said.

Price argues more members of Congress need to understand the importance of world travel.

“As I look around the Congress and hear some of the debate, the real reform would be to make some of these guys travel and open their eyes to the rest of the world,” Price said. “If we're going to do the job, we have to do it. And if we're going to do it, we have to pay the plane fare.”

The non-partisan Web site Open Secrets provides information about privately-funded Congressional travel.