Thursday, July 22, 2010

What Congress Bought Itself With Your $1 Billion in Taxpayer Funds

The Grand Totals

The tally of congressional spending between June 2009 and March 2010.

$674 million 
What the House spent in the last six months of 2009.

$339 million
What the House spent in the first three months of 2010.

Biggest spender: The second-highest-spending congressional office during the nine months was that of Democratic Rep. Jim Costa of California, who spent $1.3 million, with nearly a quarter of that being expenditures on staff. He was topped by fellow Democrat Pedro Pierluisi of Puerto Rico ($1.5 million), who cannot vote on legislation.

Biggest expense: Benefits for retired federal employees took the largest slice of the pie, with the Federal Employees Retirement System showing some $80 million in expenditures.

Line Items That Left a Dent

Amount the Democratic Caucus paid for its staff to have a getaway for the weekend to set the caucus' 2009 legislative agenda at the Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Va.

Amount that former House Speaker Dennis Hastert received to run an office for outstanding affairs from his tenure. Hastert hasn't been the speaker since early 2007 (or even been in Congress since late 2007).

Payrolls and Benefits

The heftiest COST is paying for all those people. They need paychecks. They need insurance. And they need the government to cover those student loans. (Yup, Congress makes student loan payments for federal employees, essentially as a hiring incentive.)

Who got paid how much:

$552 million in payments for all workers on the payroll.

$51.6 million
Paid to about 637 chiefs of staff or deputy chiefs of staff.

$4.4 million
Paid to about 1,045 interns and pages

Covering the Benefits

Spent on health insurance.

Spent on life insurance.

Spent on student loan repayments.

Equipment and Supplies - It's good to be in the business of selling paper clips to Congress.

Whether it's computers, office supplies or carpet, lots of companies are ready to leap in with both feet to satisfy government contracts.You need a computer to write all those bills on...

$18 million
Spent on computer hardware.

$5.3 million
Spent on computer software (the equivalent of 26,600 Windows 7 upgrades).

Paid to CDW -- an IT company that is one of the largest businesses the House deals with.

Paid to Cisco -- a networking and server hardware company.

Paid to Dell -- which means there are a lot of black boxes floating around.

And We're a PC

A paltry $22,507 went directly to Apple. We're guessing that's probably enough to buy one of every item in its product line (but not enough for any apps).

$7.5 million
Spent on office supplies (like toner cartridges and pencils).

Holding Their Own

Despite all the biggies in this category -- CDW, Staples, Office Depot, Boise Cascade (better known as OfficeMax) -- the No. 3 recipient of congressional cash might be the most interesting: Alliance Micro, a local firm that describes itself as "a service-disabled-veteran-owned small business" and caters to printer needs, which received $502,233.

The Cost of a Well-Kept House

Spent on carpet during the nine-month period.

Spent on new drapes during the same stretch.

Finishing Touches

The office decorating didn't end there -- another $2.5 million was spent on furniture.

Food and Beverages

All those warm bodies need nourishment to get through their meetings. And between catered spreads, individual meals and thirst-quenchers, there's a lot being spent to meet that need.

$2.6 million
Spent on food and beverages for House reps and their staffers.

Spent on bottled water -- in 19,000 individual line items, many for Nestle's Deer Park water-delivery subsidiary.

Spent on Capitol Host -- the biggest congressional caterer, it describes itself as "your co-host for events from casual to elegant on Capitol Hill."

Spent on Chantilly Donuts -- Minority Whip James Clyburn's office bought $900 worth of doughnuts, and the Republican Conference ate the rest.

Drinking It All In

Spent on companies that specialize in coffee.

Spent on Coca-Cola products, the equivalent of 7,000 20-ounce bottles. Coke or Pepsi? It doesn't matter which party is buying it -- House Democrats and Republicans can agree on soft-drink brands, with Coke getting a line item while Pepsi does not. Democrats may drink it a little less, however: The Office of the Majority Whip spent around $4,543, while the Office of the Minority Leader spent $4,651. California Rep. Wally Herger, a Republican, also spent $256 on Coke for his own office.

Communication and Data

Communicating is a huge part of Congress' job. Be it through e-mail, Web, phone, mail or simply shuffling papers, it may be the most important thing our representatives do. And they do a lot of it -- aided in part by a perk most Americans don't get. (Hint: It's "franked mail," which doesn't require members of Congress to pay postage, at a cost to taxpayers of $22.6 million during the nine-month period.)

Dialing up the Dollars

Spent on telecom service from Verizon -- mostly its wireless service but also including subsidiaries like MCI and long-defunct WorldCom.

Spent on telecom service from AT&T, which doesn't separate its iPhone-centric wireless service from its legacy landline service in the data.

Spent on other notable phone companies -- Qwest, CenturyLink, Sprint, Nextel, Cincinnati Bell, nTelos, T-Mobile, Alltel and U.S. Cellular. Congress loves Verizon: Verizon Wireless, which is known for servicing BlackBerrys popular with Congress, has the largest expense in the broad-ranging telecom listing, which also covers cable service, Internet service and numerous other loosely related things. Congress spent $7,693,508 on Verizon Wireless alone.

Staying Abreast of the News

$11 million
Spent on newspapers and other resources.

Number of line items for The Washington Post (wonder why)

Number of line items for The New York Times.

Number of line items for Wall Street Journal owner Dow Jones. Premium payments for specialized info: Congressional Quarterly, which publishes dozens of very specific publications just for Congress, earned $3.3 million from the House during the nine-month period. LexisNexis, which specializes in archival articles, netted around $735,000.

Logging on - Racking up

$5.8 million
Spent on Web design, e-mail and hosting services.

Shredding for Confidentiality

Spent on shredding services during the study period.

Estimated number of sheets of paper shredded (based on the going rates of Shred-it*)
* The company, which is the leading shredder for congressional offices, charges $150 for every half-hour of on-site service, or $5 per box if you drop the paper off.

Travel Reimbursements

Those flights back home mean the plane tickets really pile up. Especially if you're the delegate from Guam or Alaska's only congressman -- but they're hardly the only well-traveled lawmakers. Note: The focus here is on expenditures labeled travel reimbursements and commercial transportation, and does not include mileage, which is recorded separately.

Spent on travel for representatives and staff.

Number of separate travel charges on the taxpayers' dime.

Average number of trip expenditures for each representative.

Frequent Fliers

The top two travelers in the House? Democrats Chellie Pingree of Maine, who has 197 travel expenditures, and Ike Skelton of Missouri, who had 163 expenditures. Neither was close to being the top spender, however. One high-spending traveler was Republican Jerry Moran of Kansas, who had 145 expenditures and an $82,000 taxpayer bill.

Traveling Cheap

Around 158 representatives spent less than $20,000, but only 37 spent more than $50,000. And distance plays a a factor with travel, too: House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., for example, spent a grand total of $297. D.C. delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton doesn't have much of a need for travel, either; she spent just $57.

Costliest Route

Madeleine Bordallo, the delegate from Guam, put in for $127,368 on 33 separate travel reimbursements or charges. (She didn't take all the trips herself, as some were listed under staffers' names.) Her average reimbursement was $3,859; one reimbursement, possibly for multiple flights, cost $22,000. The flight to Guam we found on Expedia would take 27 hours and have two stops.

Flying to Alaska

Also not inexpensive, or fun: Alaska Rep. Don Young rang up $125,510 in travel charges in 113 separate travel expenditures during the period. The average reimbursement for his trips was $1,110.

Note: The focus here is on expenditures labeled travel reimbursements and commercial transportation, and  not included mileage, which is recorded separately.

I say in Novemeber, we throw the whole lot of them out and start fresh.

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