Packard Plans European Trip Despite Critics

STATES NEWS SERVICE

Rep. Ron Packard will lead an April trip to Italy, Vienna and Moscow despite recent criticism from State Department employees about congressional abuses of foreign travel, a spokeswoman for the Oceanside congressman said Tuesday.

Michelle Fischbein, Packard's spokeswoman, said the trip is sponsored by the House Appropriations Committee to study the overseas operations of the Library of Congress.

But Alphonse La Porta, vice president of the American Foreign Service Assn., a union that represents State Department employees, contended the trip is indicative of congressional abuses of foreign travel.

"It is basically unrelated to any legitimate foreign relations purpose," he said. "The Library of Congress has offices around the world and they do good work, but why this big delegation has to have military aircraft, I don't know.

"This issue of all kinds of official travel, and the abuse of it, is of very great concern," La Porta continued. "Our budgets are being reduced and we have fewer people to support these delegations."

The Washington Post reported that Packard intends to take a delegation of six House lawmakers, their spouses, three to four staffers and Librarian of Congress James H. Billington on the two-week visit.

Packard, whose district includes parts of Orange and San Diego counties, is the only lawmaker to publicly acknowledge he is going on the trip. He is chairman of the House Appropriations Legislative Subcommittee, which approves the budget for the Library of Congress.

Fischbein would not name the other members of the delegation. A reporter's calls to the Library of Congress and to the State Department regarding the European visit were referred to Packard's office.

In a prepared statement released Friday, Packard said: "While abroad, my colleagues and I will gather information relevant to our cost-cutting efforts. This will be an important trip and an informative one."

In a second statement released Tuesday, Packard said he would also monitor Russian election campaigning. He said he had been briefed by U.S. Ambassador to Russia Thomas R. Pickering.

While the Library of Congress has contacts with book dealers in Europe, it has no full-fledged offices in Italy or Vienna, according to a spokesperson. An acquisition specialist, who selects and purchases books for the Library of Congress, is based in Moscow.

Fischbein said she did not know which offices Packard planned to visit while in Europe and Russia.

"Everything is still in the working stages," she said.

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