High-flying Boondoggles

April 28, 1991

The Washington Establishment is never more comical than when it attempts to curb its own excesses. No sooner had the high-flying antics of White House chief of staff John Sununu stirred tongues to clucking on Capitol Hill than the tongue-cluckers found themselves targets of attention. It is, of course, no great new revelation that members of Congress luxuriate in government-subsidized air travel but it is nice to think that Mr. Sununu's peccadilloes may prompt reforms from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other.

President Bush has already let it be known he is unhappy with Mr. Sununu's self-indulgence and has ordered a review of travel arrangements for the Oval Office crowd. Now the General Accounting Office, a congressional watchdog agency, is to investigate not only the executive branch but -- get this! -- the legislative branch was well.

The Washington Bureau of The Sun has taken a look at what the House and the Senate choose to reveal about their own members. It is not much. Senators are required to list their past travels only on a quarterly basis without specifying the purpose of their trips or even taxpayer-paid transportation costs. The House is a little better, since its members are supposed to report their travel costs. Often, public disclosure comes a year after the fact, which gets many a lawmaker safely past the paltry 2 percent risk of not getting re-elected.

It is already the stuff of national legend that the tight-fisted Mr. Sununu was liberally open-handed when it came to government-subsidized ski junkets in Colorado and dental visits to Boston and appearances at Republican fund-raisers. This was in line with a Reagan era policy decreeing that the chief of staff and the national security adviser should stay in constant touch with the White House and keep clear of terrorists by flying in Air Force jets standing by for their beck and call.

Now Mr. Bush wants changes to avoid even "the appearance of impropriety," an attitude that immediately differentiates him from his predecessor.

As for Congress, the rush to investigate itself is about as sincere as protestations against legislative pay raises. The push comes mainly from Republican lawmakers who have no love for Mr. Sununu but are trying to make it clear that the Grand Old Party has no monopoly on taking advantage of travel perks paid for by taxpayers. Democrats eagerly indulge too, most especially those who are chairmen of committees and subcommittees.

The time has come for full travel-cost disclosure from the White House, Congress and all agencies of the federal government. What fun it would be.

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