Monday, May 17, 2010


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced a tightening of the rules to curb congressional travel abuse as Democrats head into what looks to be a bad year for majority incumbents, but the new restrictions are unlikely to slow the pace of Faleomavaega, whose time on airplanes borders on insanity.

Among other reforms Pelosi has announced, House Members now will be required to travel economy class on flights less than 14 hours. It is unclear from news accounts if the time threshold applies to total time between departure and arrival cities or time on each segment. In the former case, Eni is well covered because most of his Asian destinations are longer than 14 hours away total travel time.

If the restriction is per segment, Eni easily can get around that by flying non-stop to places like Hong Kong or Bangkok in business class then travel economy from one of those hub cities to his final destination. Rest assured, this restriction will not affect his travel one bit.

The speaker also is requiring more documentation for the rationale of committee-arranged trips, known universally as CODELs--short for Congressional delegation. It is not clear if this documentation will be available for public scrutiny but the media in American Samoa have shown little interest in the whereabouts or the whys of the delegate’s travel and there has been no public clamor for the information. Frequently he announces that he is “on assignment” in Asia without ever revealing who is making these assignments, so perhaps this new documentation will shed light on that. Samoa News, where his sister-in-law is an editor, dutifully prints his press releases and the public believes he is on some sort of "assignment."

The new rules also reminded lawmakers that government travel per diem is to be spent for official business and that excess money must be returned. The rules prohibit lawmakers from taking aides from their personal offices along or from putting aides temporarily on the committee payroll to get around the restriction but it would be difficult to determine if Eni heretofore has abused the system in these regards. Faleomavaega routinely apportions some of his staff salaries between his personal office and the Foreign Affairs Committee, but it is not clear whether this is to get around travel restrictions or just to hide the true salaries of some of his staff.

Pelosi also made clear that the costly use of military aircraft would be limited and that to qualify for one of the scarce jets, lawmakers must be traveling on a bipartisan basis and have enough colleagues traveling to justify a government plane. Despite his seniority and position, Eni has not been very successful in obtaining the use of military aircraft, so this new rule should not pose any difficulties for him.

The only rule change that might have made a difference is if Pelosi had required any sort of certification of a member’s health. For years Faleomavaega has had serious health problems and periodically has had to have been hospitalized. In addition to obesity, he has had heart problems, circulatory problems, halitosis and foot problems, including suffering from gout. It has been rumored that on his last trip to American Samoa for Flag Day last month he was so ill he had to be hospitalized and missed the ceremonies.

He reportedly was wheeled to the plane in a wheel chair for the return trip to Washington, was again hospitalized in Honolulu and finally again in Washington, which may have been the reason why he was absent in a photograph of all the other territorial delegates standing behind President Obama when he signed an Executive Order re-establishing an Interagency Group on Insular Affairs.

Perhaps it is illness that also has led to his silence so far on the 40% reduction of work force StarKist announced Friday for its American Samoa cannery. Faleomavaega recently made a point of announcing he had flown to Seoul to meet with the cannery owners and was given assurances that the company did not intend to close its facility in the territory. Perhaps not at the moment, but the handwriting is on the wall.

Sick or not, you can expect that just as soon as he is able to do so, Faleomavaega will be back on another plane to Seoul to hold further meetings with StarKist. The congressional Memorial Day recess is only two weeks away. Count on the travel. In fact, expect there to be a travel frenzy the rest of this year because it increasingly looks like Republicans will be taking control of Congress in November elections.

Republican control will not slow the pace of Faleomavaega’s travel but it will restrict his freedom to choose where he goes. Right now, he can go anywhere in the world because his subcommittee has jurisdiction over not only Asia and the Pacific but “global environment.” The word “global” must have brought tears to his eyes when the Foreign Affairs Committee chairman agreed to give him that responsibility. Most recently he held a hearing on “saving the whales,” although there is another subcommittee that has responsibility for fish, wildlife and oceans. So, I am sure we can expect to hear about Eni’s globetrotting adventures in search of rare whales.

But even if he will not be able to call his own shots if Republicans control the House, the bipartisan requirement will remain. During their 12 years in the majority, a number of Republicans found great value in having Faleomavaega around because they knew he was always available to join a CODEL and that gave them the bipartisan cover they needed to put trips together. Meanwhile, now that there is a new requirement for travel justification, it would be interesting to see how he might justify a third trip to the remote Torres Strait Islands. We'd settle for seeing how he justified the first and second trips.

In short: if he’s breathing, he’s traveling.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

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