Sen. William L. Scott, the blunt-spoken Virginia Republican who will leave Congress in 17 months, has in four year's time established a reputation as one of the most traveled members of the Senate.
Just returned from a 10-day, three-nation trip to Latin America, Scott now has visited a total of 34 countries - some of them twice in one year - and has touched down on all of the world's continents except Amarctica, compliments of U.S. taxpayers.
His Latin American trip was his second overseas visit this year, and, despite some private misgivings by some State Department officials over its value, Scott said that it, along with the rest of his travels, was a worthwhile venture.
"This was a working trip," Scott said the other day. In the past, reported gaffes by the junior Virginia senator, and what some consider as his abrupt manner, have prompted some diplomats and military escorts to shudder at the prospect of a Scott trip. In 1975, one member of an Air Force crew became so upset with the senator during an Asian trip that he pinned what Scott called "a complaint" to his wife's berth in the plane.
Scott, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in an interview this week that his latest trip was a success although he conceded he encountered some obstacles. No one from the Panamanian Foreign Ministry showed up for a dinner party given for the senator and he had to settle for conversation with a former minister and a housing minister.
Plans for a stop in Brazil had to be canceled altogether when Scott learned, midway in the trip, that no high-level Brazilians would arrange to meet with him during the weekend.
In Panama, which the senator's staff had described as the "focus" of his publicly unannounced trip. Scott had meetings scheduled for two of his planned three days there, according to documents furnished to The Washington Post by the State Department in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
U.S. military and embassy officials there gave him briefings, a helicopter ride over the Panama Canal, and a 30-minute movie on the canal's operations in addition to sponsoring a "sports shirt" reception and dinner in his honor. In all, it was what one Latin American expert at the State Department call, "a fairly standard program" given visiting congressmen.
Scott, making his first visit to the region, said he was impressed, "I learned a lot about the canal . . . saw ships going both ways . . .," he said. The Canal Zone, he noted, "is 10 miles wide - five miles on either side of the canal."
The senator defended the trip, which ended last Sunday, from suggestions, voiced privately by some State Department and foreign embassy officials, tat portions of his itinerary lacked substance.
"It looks as it he's there as a tourist, er, no, I shouldn't say "tourist,"" said one Latin American specialist at the State Department. "But I have to say that I can find no substantive question being raised by the trip," the official said.
State Department officials say foreign travel by American congressmen "is their business," but the department lands the practice. "There is just no substitute for their going overseas and getting a first-hand view," said Eugene Krizek, director of congressional relations for the department.
Last year the department assisted 763 members of Congress and their aides in arranging foreign trips. The cost of the trip, which tends to be borne by congressional committee budgets and Defense Department funds, probably amounts to between $1 million and $15 million a year, Krizek said.
The department cannot assess Scott's most recent trip because it "really was a military mission," Krizek said. Privately, however other U.S. diplomats have questionned the effectiveness of some of Scott's travels.
In 1975 some Israeli diplomats were reportedly offended when the senator, in a conversation wtih then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, likened the determination of Israel to that of the "Nazis."
According to congressional records, Scott began his travels the previous year, visiting Belgium, Germany, Spain, Turkey, Romania, France, Greece, Italy, the United Kingdom, Japan and Hong Kong for the Armed Services Committee. He also visited five of the countries a second time that year, attending the North Atlantic Assembly, a gathering of legislators from the 15 NATO member countries.
In 1975, Scott visited Japan, Cambodia, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Spain, Israel, Italy, Iran, Saudia Arabia, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
In 1976, he went to the Philippines as part of a delegation to a meeting of the World Bank-International Monetary Fund.
This year he attended a five-day conclave of legislators for various nations in Australia, and traveled to New Zealand, Indonesia, Taiwan, Guam and American Samoa. After leaving Panama, Scott traveled to Argentina and Chile and his most recent trip. Both Argentia and Chile have military regimes to which Congress has cut previous military aid requests.
Scott said others in his party, including his wife, Inez, Charles J. Conneely, an Armed Services Committee staffer, and their military escort support his appraisal of the trip. "Chuck Conneely said if anyone referred to this as a junket, he was going to punch him in the nose," Scott said. The senator then suggested that a reporter contact Conneely for his comments "on the phone." Conneely never returned the calls.
According to Scott, the trip was the idea of Armed Services Chairman John C. Stennis (D-Miss.), who, Scott said, was anxious to have a member of his committee visit the region because of the new Panama Canal treaty that the Carter adminsitration is negotiating Stennis wnated some member of his committee to go there even thought he canal treaty probably will be referred to the Foreign Relations Committee, Scott said.
A staunch conservative, Scott has said previously that he would oppose any major changes in the canal's status. In the interview, he said he was nothing in Panama to change his mind.
A the Canal Zone, Scott was given an informal briefing by "a three-star man" who heads the Defense Department's Southern Command, a regional military command in charge of all military forces in the area.
Scott said the command's specific role has escaped him despite the briefing and the mass of printed materials he was givne there. "I couldn't define it," he said, adding that he believed military attaches assigned to Latin American came under the command.
According to the State Department cables, furnished under the Freedom of Information request, Chilean officials told the State Department that Scott asked to visit a vineyard in their country. Accordingly, the American Embassy in Santiago mapped out plans for a luncheon in a vineyard there.
Scott, who has the reputation fo being a teetotaler, said he did not request the vineyard stop. "I obviously had no desire to see or not to see" the vinyard, he said. "We saw some grapevines, but we did not see any wine being made," Scott said.
Although Mrs. Scott accompanied her husband on the trip, Scott said that he was paying $1,285 as her share of the commercial airline fare for the trip. The group also traveled touristclass for most of the trip, except for a final Santiago-to-Miami flight when economy seats were not available, Scott said.
Defense Department officials said they would not know for another 60 days the total cost of the trip. A Pentagon spokesman said that in addition ot the $75-a-day per diem expense allowance the senator received, the Army escort officer who accompanied Scott was given another $6,000 to spend for hotel bills and other expenses.
In both Argentina and Chile, government officials were upset, Scott said, over the Carter administration's charges of their indifference to human rights issues. "They made allegations to the effect, "Why does your government pick on us after we have been your allies for these many years," he said.
However, Scott said it would "not be fair" for him to express his opinions on those allegations until after he had presented a report to the Armed Service Committee, which "sponsored the trip."