So Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas) has five district offices ranging in rent from $400 to $1,800 a month, but the new books no longer indicate what cities they are in. A reader would have to go to an old book to find out that the $1,800 rent is for an office in Rockwall, while the $504 expenditure is for an office in Sherman.
A search of the online document also turns up not a single camera, television or printer among the purchases.
From April through June, the printed books indicated that Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) paid a company called Capitol Idea Technology nearly $46,000 on technology products, including $11,410 for video conf. equipment, $149.99 for Klipsch Promedia 2.1 speakers, and $5,308 for two Panasonic Toughbook laptops, as well as about $3,000 for extended warranties on the equipment.
By contrast, from July to September, the online books indicate that Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) paid the same company $7,600 for a series of transactions described only as equipment purchase, comp hardware purch or equipment maintenance. There is no way of telling what the Congresswoman actually bought.
Apparently, the Members themselves have not changed the way they report expenses to the Chief Administrative Officer of the House, but that office has changed the way it enters the information into its expenditures database.
Jeff Ventura, a spokesman for CAO Dan Beard told Roll Call in an e-mail, The process was updated. In order to bring a higher degree of consistency and accuracy to the SOD document, the online version is generated via a process that more strictly applies the use of standard government accounting codes, similar to those used by the Executive Branch.
The new guidelines for accounting codes also apply to the print edition of the books.
But Tom Anfinson, a former accounting official for the House who now prepares the books for more than a dozen Members, said Congress has long used the standard government accounting codes; Members just offered additional detail that was not required, and the CAO employees entered that information into the system.
Accounting in the House is based on a voucher system. Any receipt generated in a Members office is saved, and the office completes a voucher explaining what the receipt was for and to whom the CAOs finance office should make out a check.
The vouchers and receipts are then turned over to the CAO, where requests are reviewed, checks are cut and information is entered into a database for the disbursement books. Recurring expenses like rent are paid directly by the CAO without a voucher.
We have changed nothing from the standpoint of voucher descriptions, Anfinson said. When we do a voucher, we will put down the account number and the vendor name and some description like we would put down camcorder so you could identify the thing. That information is provided in addition to the standard budget accounting codes used throughout government.
A House leadership staffer said the change in accounting creates a system where there is a standard use of codes across the board so you can make apples-to-apples comparisons in regards to transportation or office expenses.