Noted With Interest

Vice President's Office Keeps Travel Expenses Under Wraps

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Open-government advocates say that Vice President Cheney is to executive branch secrecy what darkness is to the night.

In 2001, Cheney famously refused to disclose the names of oil company executives and others who attended meetings of a White House energy task force that he headed, which helped draft a national energy policy.

More recently, a government watchdog group has called attention to less noticed records that Cheney has sought to keep private: travel costs.

In a report this month, the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity said Cheney and his staff have sidestepped regulations that require annual reporting of travel expenses of more than $250 received from outside groups. The center, which focuses on ethics and public service issues, said previous vice presidents routinely disclosed such payments for lodging, travel and food when the veep and his staff made appearances at colleges, think tanks and trade associations.

"The private sector reimburses elected officials and bureaucrats for such trips, but laws require officials to disclose where they went, how much it costs and who paid for it," the report said, citing provisions found in Section 1353 of Title 13 of the U.S. Code.

Cheney's office says nothing is amiss. In three letters since 2002 to the Office of Government Ethics, which collects the travel reports, David S. Addington, then Cheney's general counsel, noted that the reporting requirement applies to the "head of each agency of the executive branch."

"The Office of the Vice President is not an 'agency of the executive branch,' and hence the reporting requirement does not apply," wrote Addington, who this month replaced I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby as Cheney's chief of staff.

Since 2003, President Bush's office has reported hundreds of thousands of dollars in such travel, the center noted. And all but one office within the Executive Office of the President -- the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board -- has done so.

It doesn't matter, according to Addington. In a Feb. 25 letter to Marilyn Glynn, acting director of the ethics office, he wrote that "none of the Vice President's employees . . . accepted payments under Section 1353."

Yet, according to the center's research, Cheney has given 23 speeches to think tanks and trade organizations and 16 at academic institutions since 2001 -- apparently all at taxpayers' expense.

"[I]t appears that his office labels them 'official travel,' " the center said. "As a result . . . the public is kept largely unaware of where he and his staff are traveling, with whom they are meeting and how much it costs, even though tax dollars are covering the bill."

-- Christopher Lee


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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