House Creates Reimbursement Voucher Standards

Posted December 9, 2009 at 6:28pm

House officials announced Wednesday that Members will have to adhere to new documentation standards when seeking reimbursement for expenses such as airplane tickets and office supplies.

Members and staffers regularly submit reimbursement vouchers to the House Chief Administrative Officer for a slew of office expenses. The CAO, in turn, determines whether the expenses can be reimbursed through the Member Representational Allowance or Members’ taxpayer-funded office budget.

But in a “Dear Colleague— letter sent Wednesday afternoon, House Administration Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.) and ranking member Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) said offices have reported “inconsistent advice— on what documentation should be included with vouchers. To solve the problem, they said, the committee — along with the House Office of Administrative and Financial Counseling and the Inspector General — developed a clear set of standards.

“Following these documentation standards will speed voucher processing and payment, and will ensure that vouchers are processed as efficiently and accurately as possible,— the letter states. “Vouchers following these standards will also ensure enhanced accountability in the voucher process, and provide additional safeguards for House/taxpayer resources, while minimizing the vulnerability to abuse.—

Though the standards technically go into effect at the beginning of next year, Brady spokesman Kyle Anderson stressed that offices would get a long transition period and officials will be on hand to help. The “overwhelming majority— of offices are already in compliance, he said.

“The Finance Office will be working with Member and Committee Offices and assisting them in every way possible to make a smooth and painless transition,— he said in an e-mail. “Vouchers will continue to be paid as always and we are hopeful that the transition to compliance will actually reduce the voucher processing time.—

Among other things, the new standards require offices to hand in the original receipt, according to a document sent to staffers. If the original receipt is lost, offices have to submit a list of documents, including “proof of payment— and a “detailed description of the expense.— The standards also detail required documents for various types of travel, supplies, rent and a number of other specifics. Hiring protective security, for example, requires a recommendation from the Capitol Police Threat Assessment Office.

Though it’s not common, Members have been victims of embezzlement in the past. In May, a former aide to Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) pleaded guilty to charges that she stole $5,000 to $10,000 in early 2006. The aide, Caroline Valdez, charged airline tickets and groceries to a House credit card and submitted inflated reimbursement vouchers.

A year earlier, House Inspector General James Cornell discovered that at least two “shared— employees — staffers who work for more than one office — had billed offices for the reimbursement of supplies and subscriptions they never purchased.