Spouses Ordered Off Pentagon’s Jets … or Not

Posted March 26, 2010 at 5:38pm

It’s spring, and Congressional delegation season is in full bloom, but the Defense Department has implemented a tough new policy prohibiting Members from taking along their spouses on military flights (wink, wink).

The Pentagon in January quietly issued a new guidance document governing “DoD Support for Travel of Members and Employees of Congress,” an update to a guidance last issued 46 years ago, which includes the following new directive: “Due to limited resources and the expense involved with the use of military aircraft, spouses and family members of Members and employees of Congress will not accompany official delegation travel.”

The original 1964 version of this rule was much more squishy: “DoD policy prohibiting accompanying travel of dependents of Department of Defense personnel on military carriers is equally applicable to travel of dependents of members and employees of the Congress,” followed by a bunch of exceptions saying basically that the secretary of Defense and other top officials can waive this prohibition whenever it seems appropriate.

Fortunately for Paris in springtime, the new guidance also contains a bunch of exceptions as well.

The Pentagon now maintains that military officials may approve conjugal junkets “in unique cases, when there is an unquestionably official function in which the family member is actually to participate in an official capacity or such travel is deemed in the national interest because of a diplomatic or public relations benefit to the United States.”

In other words, if it would be inappropriate for the president of Fredonia to dine unchaperoned with Congresswoman Teasdale, then Mr. Teasdale can tag along for the trip.

And since the military is already flying the aircraft over there, there is no expense to the government of adding Mr. Teasdale to the manifest, so he doesn’t have to pay for the privilege.

A Defense Department spokeswoman said the new guidance on spousal travel actually reflects no change in policy. Rather, “it just lays it out more specifically.”

A House staffer agrees that the new document made no changes to existing Congressional travel policies, which have presumably been evolving since the original guidance was signed by then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.

But since the Pentagon repeatedly declined Roll Call’s request for an interview on the subject, it’s impossible to know exactly whether the new guidance reflects any new policies and why the military felt the need to update its rules after 46 years.

The new version contains several subjects not addressed in the original. For instance: The guidance now provides for the military to ferry governors around to deployment areas to meet with National Guard troops from their states but stipulates that these flights will only leave from Andrews Air Force Base. Governors are responsible for getting themselves to and from Andrews.

Also, the new guidance explains that media can travel with Congressional delegations as long as they pay their own way. However, “media will not be authorized to travel on military aircraft with CODELs during election years.”

It is not clear whether that is to prevent Members from using CODELs as campaign fodder, with local camera crews documenting the Sen. Whatsit’s purposeful strides across the barren terrain of Kandahar, Afghanistan, or to prevent publication of news photos of Sen. Whatsit several drinks into an animated policy discussion with an attractive military attaché.

The document also points out that for security reasons, Congressional delegations and staff delegations “should not communicate (via any means) their movements in advance of any trip,” which presumably explains why several Congressional offices refused to confirm for Roll Call the upcoming recess CODELs we have heard about.

The new guidance also notes that the military will not pay to fly Members from Andrews to their home state or district, with the one exception of the presidentially mandated travel for the Speaker — referred to by Defense as the “Speaker Shuttle.”