U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, recently returned about $230,000 of his 2010 congressional office budget to the U.S. Treasury to help pay down the national debt.
Owens said it wasn't just happenstance that about 15 percent of his allocation was left unspent.
Owens said that at the beginning of last year, he planned a budget with reduced spending, much like any small business owner would do.
"So it was planned. And then we were able to sustain that budget operation," Owens said in a recent telephone interview.
Owens spent about $1.2 million to run his offices in 2010, while former U.S. Rep. Scott Murphy, D-Glens Falls, spent about $1.47 million, according to a report from the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan advocacy organization that focuses on government transparency.
Owens represents New York's 23rd Congressional District, which includes Hamilton County and part of Essex County.
Murphy, who lost re-election in November, represented New York's 20th Congressional District, which includes most of The Post-Star readership area.
Murphy said Monday he is still in the process of closing out his office accounting, but he expects to have some unspent allocation to return.
"We will have some money to turn back over," he said.
Each House member receives an allocation based on factors that include real estate prices in the district and travel distance from Washington.
House members can disburse the allocation for offices, staff, mailings and other expenses as they please.
A House member that goes over the allocation must cover those expenses personally, Murphy said.
House members on average spent about $1 million on staff, said Bill Allison, editorial director for the Sunlight Foundation.
Owens and Murphy were both under that amount.
Owens spent $711,199, and Murphy spent $856,991, according to the Sunlight Foundation report.
Allison said that Murphy's spending was about average or below in all areas except for mailing and publishing.
Murphy spent $127,215 on mailing and $189,605 on printing and reproduction.
Owens spent $104,525 on mailing and $143,244 on printing and reproduction.
Owens said he didn't target any one specific area of his office budget for reduction.
"We tried to operate in a reduced way across the board," he said. "That was our goal -- was not to do things that were dramatic in one line item, if you will."
Owens said he budgeted to spend under his allocation again this year.
Current U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, who took office in the 20th District in January, has a projected office budget of $1.43 million this year, said spokeswoman Stephanie Valle.
"That will be our absolute limit. We'll probably be a little under that," she said.
A breakdown by category was not available.
Gibson was tied up in meetings for multiple days and not available to comment directly for this story, she said.
Valle said Gibson's travel costs may be a little higher than his predecessor's because House leadership has scheduled more time for members to be in their districts this year.
Gibson's office is looking to take more advantage of Internet communication, but the office still will be mailing out printed material to let constituents know about services the office provides and the congressman's position on issues, she said.
"We're definitely going to do it in a cost-conscious manner," she said.
Valle said new House members have a lot of expenses associated with setting up offices.
The House of Representatives does an evaluation of the predecessor's computer equipment and telecommunication lines and determines what should be replaced.
"It's frustrating when you have the House mandating the purchase of new computers instead of the inheritance of computers from your predecessor," she said.
Gibson and Owens both recently voted for a House resolution to reduce office expense allocations by 5 percent for each House member.