National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) President John Engler yesterday told the House Committee on Standards and Official Conduct that Congressional staff that tours of manufacturing plants serve a viable purpose and should not be discouraged.
Recently, NAM was forced to suspend its educational trip program amid concerns of implied impropriety by the organization-paid trips.
Engler described the six-point practice of taking groups of 12-15 Congressional staff to on-site visits of manufacturing plants as follows:
One: Trips take place during congressional recesses.
Two: NAM picks plant locations and arranges the tours with NAM member manufacturers.
Three: Twelve-to-15 congressional staff members are selected and commit to participate.
Four: All trips are approved beforehand by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct or the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.
Five: Congressional staff members see and experience things they have never before seen and experienced, and return to Washington better able to advise Congress on issues related to manufacturing.
Six: The NAM provides all required information in a timely fashion for staffers to file their disclosure report.
“Since nearly all of these manufacturing facilities are located outside of Washington, D.C., it is necessary to travel to get to them,” Engler said.
According to Engler, all previous trips had been approved by the House Commmitte, however ongoing concerns about changes in lobbying rules, and House approval of H.R. 4975, The Lobbying and Transparency Act of 2006, have had a “chilling effect” on the program.
The forced suspension of NAM’s program was referred to as “regrettable” by Engler during his comments before the Committee. Engler also explained that these trips are conducted on a bipartisan basis and provide the visitors with unrestricted access to company employees at these facilities.
Engler ended his comments before the Committee by saying, “Legitimate educational trips and fact-finding missions will help Congress better reach decisions that reflect the realities of the workplace and this nation’s manufacturing economy. Regardless of the cause, ending these educational visits would benefit neither Congress nor the American people.”