Congressional Democrats Vow to Scrutinize White House Perks

From the Washington Post

Perk patrols organized by congressional Democrats, who have been stung by Republican criticism of the House bank affair, have vowed to peer into every nook and cranny of executive branch privilege.

The Senate and House Appropriations committees and several of their subcommittees intend to scrutinize the operation of the White House, the offices of the President and vice president and the habits of every Cabinet member and federal department.

Congress, which is preparing to do away with some special arrangements for its members, also will turn the spotlight on an elaborate range of executive branch items, from the $200,000 the White House spends annually for flowers and the $50,000 in presidential discretionary funds to the private dining rooms, limousine drivers, free parking and air travel of high-ranking officials in the 14 federal departments.

Over the last several days, the committees have asked the White House and federal agencies for detailed information of hundreds of services they now enjoy.

According to congressional, White House and federal government officials, under scrutiny is the White House's $7,262,000 operating budget, among other things.

An administration staff of a chief usher, four assistant ushers, an executive grounds superintendent, an accountant and an administrative officer manages and coordinates the White House operation, according to federal budget documents.

A staff of 34 National Park Service gardeners, horticulturists, plumbers, carpenters, painters and electricians maintain the 18 acres around the White House and make repairs to the 132 rooms as well as provide support for official and ceremonial functions.

The Park Service employees, at a cost of $600,000 a year, provide upkeep on the residence-size swimming pool with a diving board, a tennis court and a recently installed artificial turf putting green, said James McDaniel, the Park Service White House liaison.

There is also a bowling alley, a gym, a movie theater and a horseshoe pit.

White House spokeswoman Judy Smith said Monday that 700 White House employees belong to the gym and that membership dues are $208, plus a $35 initiation fee.

Congressional sources, however, believe the actual costs of White House operations are hidden in accounts of the Defense Department, the State Department and the General Services Administration.

Congress has also asked for a detailed accounting of the operating costs of Camp David, a Maryland presidential retreat operated by the Navy.

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