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John Boehner famously grew up mopping the floors of his father’s bar, so presumably he knows little about hobnobbing with foreign royalty, one of his duties as Speaker.
So in December, the Ohio Republican’s office spent $5,800 to register a staff member for a protocol class to learn the niceties of exchanging gifts, arranging seating plans and organizing large events with visiting dignitaries.
The class is run by an accredited private academy, the Protocol School of Washington. The five-day training to take place in May — Boehner’s office saved $500 on the tuition by registering ahead of time — covers topics such as dining skills, titles and forms of address, gifts, and flags and logos, according to an agenda posted on the school’s website.
Sarah Baack, the protocol school’s director of student services, said the protocol officer training course that Boehner’s office registered for is one of three courses offered and is popular among government officials, staffers and military personnel who are involved in “planning large events [and] dealing with international VIPs.”
The school also teaches a course that focuses more heavily on international protocol — that class will meet the first week of May in Dubai — and a corporate etiquette course that deals with things like personal greetings and dining. Boehner’s staff will be attending the less-ritzy course at the Ritz-Carlton in McLean, Va.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said the expenditure for the school “was for staff training related to the ceremonial role of the Speaker. We’re responsible for hosting an array of foreign dignitaries, and following the proper protocol is important.”
In March 2009, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi promoted her scheduler to director of protocol, a full-time position that Steel said Boehner does not have. The California Democrat also had a deputy director of protocol on her payroll.
Last year, the House Office of Interparliamentary Affairs paid the full $6,300 to send a staffer to the protocol school, but no other Congressional staff paid tuition to the school, according to online Congressional disbursement records.
The Sergeant-at-Arms was the only other House office that had staff dedicated to protocol last year.
While Boehner is operating until May without a certified protocol expert, he is not shying from the ceremonial fray. This morning he is scheduled to meet with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard prior to her address before a joint session of Congress. Presumably the proper form of address is “madam prime minister.”