Numerous Carter administration officials made overseas junkets at taxpayers' expense in their last 2 1/2 months in office after the November election, making stops in such world capitals as Paris, London, Tokyo and Peking.
Among the travelers were former Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall, who went on an around-the-world trip that took him to Paris, Tokyo and Peking, and former Secertary of Energy Charles B. Duncan, who hopped on an Air France supersonic Concorde flight to Paris. The other foreign travelers included high aides at Labor, Energy, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and apparently four other agencies.
The General Accounting Office is investigating travel vouchers at the seven agencies to see who authorized the trips, to try to determine if the travel was necessary and to see what benefit the taxpayers received, if any.
The investigation into lame-duck travel began at the end of January at the request of Sen. Charles H. PERCY (R-Ill.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In a letter to Comptroller General Elmer B. Staats, Percy said that some preliminary work by his staff showed that Marshall took five of his employes to China, after a two-day stop in Paris, to examine rural development in the Orient. That trip cost the taxpayers $24,814, although Marshall and three of the staffers no longer are with the government, Percy said.
In addition, three HUD officials went to China for 10 days in December at a cost of $8,783. One of them traveled to Mexico a few weeks later on another "government business" trip, Percy said.
The GAO also is investigating political appointees at the departments of Commerce, Interior, Agriculture and Health and Human Services. A full report is due on March 20.
There are certainly many trips during the lame-duck period that are necessary, [but] I suspect many are not," Percy said in his letter.
One trip Percy believes might have been "of questionable value to the taxpayer" was taken by William Medina, former assistant secretary for administration at HUD. Medina went to Paris for five days in December at HUD expense to attend a conference of the "French-American Coalition on Methods of Governmental Workings."
Medina, who now teaches at the Washington branch of the University of Southern California, said he delivered a paper on the operations of U.S. federal agencies to a gathering of French and American scholars and officials."I thought the conference was very worthwhile," Medina said. noting that he had planned the trip since last June. He billed HUD $1,772 for his air fare and expenses.
A preliminary GAO audit at Energy shows that Duncan went to an International Energy Agency conference in Paris in early December flying to Europe on the Concorde. He returned on a regular jet flight.
Duncan could not be reached for comment, but Marshall said he went on his trip only after checking with other administration officials and the Chinese government.
"After the election, I thought maybe I shouldn't go, but checked with [the] State [Department] and Zbig [former White House security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski] and with my Chinese government counterpart and they urged me to go," Marshall said, adding that the trip had been planned for months.
Both houses of Congress passed rules in 1977 that prohibit reimbursement to lame-duck members who travel abroad. Those rules do not apply to executive branch members, however.
An aide to Percy said that if the GAO investigation discovers widespread abuse of travel funds by executive branch officials, the senator will propose legislation to put restrictions on such travel.