It wasn’t because of controversies about Mary Beth Buchanan. Or Chris Christie. The Department of Justice swears.
New rules that ensure U.S. Attorneys don’t travel on the taxpayer dime for political purposes are the result of a review process that found the previous guidelines to be confusing, the department said.
“The previous policies and procedures were admittedly inconsistent — and the new memo was a result of a comprehensive review of all travel rules and regulations,” Justice Department spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said in a statement. “Moving forward, this memo will serve as the single set of guidelines for the U.S. Attorney community, and all other guidance will be based off this memo.”
The Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys updates policies and procedures as needed, Schwartz said. “These updated procedures reflect goals of improved transparency and stewardship of taxpayer dollars,” she added.
The new guidelines came to light earlier this week in a story by The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after the newspaper filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the travel records of Buchanan, the former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Those records indicated that Buchanan spent more than half her time on the road, costing taxpayers $450,000.
Appointed during the George W. Bush administration, Buchanan resigned Nov. 16 to run for the Republication nomination for the 4th congressional district in Pennsylvania. She lost that race in May to former Department of Homeland Security official Keith Rothfus.
In New Jersey, a former U.S. Attorney’s travel expenses were an issue in last year’s governor’s race. Incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine (D) used a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain travel records for Christie, his Republican opponent. The records showed the prosecutor often exceeded his government allowance and stayed in luxury hotels while serving as the state’s chief federal prosecutor. Christie won the election.
The new travel policy memo, sent to U.S. Attorneys’ offices in February and authored by Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys Director H. Marshall Jarrett, said the revamped procedures will ensure compliance with travel policies; strengthen internal controls and oversight of U.S. Attorneys’ travel in a user-friendly process; and maintain the integrity and reputation the U.S. Attorney position. The procedures were implemented March 1.
U.S. Attorneys can approve their own travel within their district, but must get approval from the Director of EOUSA or the Deputy Director for Administration and Management if they use premium class travel accommodations or actual subsistence is requested, according to the memo.
When traveling outside of their districts domestically, the U.S. Attorney must notify the Executive Office at least five days in advance of planned departure date. If the travel is being reimbursed by a non-federal source, they must submit their request 10 days in advance and the request will be reviewed by the EOUSA’s General Counsel’s Office. Foreign travel requires authorizations to be submitted 15 days in advance, according to the new regulations.
Under the guidelines, the EOUSA will conduct audits of a sample of each U.S. Attorney’s travel authorizations and vouchers every six months to ensure offices are complying with the regulations.
DOJ rules state that travel conducted by those in higher level positions at Justice Department headquarters has to be authorized by either the Deputy Attorney General or the Associate Attorney General.
The memo is embedded below.