The newly-appointed Oregon state treasurer this afternoon said he is taking further steps to curtail luxury spending among state employees during business trips for managing investment funds.
In addition to a previously announced review of investment-related travel policies, State Treasurer Ted Wheeler said today he will seek an outside analysis and will appoint an independent panel to help guide any changes.
"Travel is an essential part of the job for Oregon's investment officers, who logged roughly 500,000 miles in 2009 to help keep public investments safe," the treasury said in a statement.
Last week, in response to an investigative report in The Oregonian, Treasurer Wheeler announced he had initiated a review of internal policies at the State Treasury "to ensure that investment-related travel is both cost-effective and also in line with public expectations."
The Oregonian's story detailed spending by private investment funds that hosted state employees in luxury hotels and restaurants while the employees were monitoring the funds' performance.
Wheeler, who was recently appointed to the post after the death of former Treasurer Ben Westlund, said he has directed the Oregon Secretary of State's office to analyze recent documents on staff travel to determine whether guidelines were followed.
The state treasurer also says he's an Independent Citizen Advisory Panel "to help guide the formation of a new travel policy, and that he will ask the Oregon Government Ethics Commission to endorse the changes."
"Oregonians have been well-served by the expertise of the state's investment officers, but Oregonians also have a right to expect that travel will be focused on business," Wheeler said.
He says the independent analysis and advisory panel will offer perspective in addition to the internal review, which is comparing the Treasury's existing investment travel and reimbursement rules to those of other state investment funds.
The internal review, which is being performed by the Deputy Treasurer and Chief Audit Officer, is anticipated by June 1.
"The Oregon Investment Council requires investment officers to travel frequently to protect the $67 billion portfolio overseen by the State Treasury," Wheeler's office said. "Travel is needed to evaluate financial managers, inspect Oregon real estate holdings and to attend annual meetings and to sit on advisory boards.
"The state does not choose the locations of annual meetings and conferences."
After the scandal broke last week, Wheeler announced new accounting practices for travel costs and a boost on existing guidelines that call for investment officers to fly coach on domestic flights. He also required investment officers to pay their own way for golf and other off-site entertainment that is part of conference agendas.
A review showed that investment officers played in three hosted rounds of golf in 2009.
Investment officers logged about 110 trips in 2009. "Officers combine several due diligence visits into a single trip when possible," the treasury office said.