Washington (CNN) - As Speaker of the House, John Boehner regularly hosts foreign leaders visiting Washington, presides over joint meetings of the House and Senate, and gives out Congressional commendations. So, as he prepared to take over the post last year, he enrolled an aide in a class at a private school outside Washington, D.C. to learn proper etiquette.
According to public records listing payments by Boehner's office, and first reported by the publication Roll Call, the then Republican Leader spent $5,800 last December in tuition for his aide to attend a five day course this spring given by the Protocol School of Washington.
Because Boehner's office registered early for the class, which will meet in May in McLean, Virginia, his office received $500 discount off the regular $6,300 tuition fee for the five- day course.
Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker Boehner, defended the expenditure of taxpayer funds, saying, "Part of the ceremonial role of the Speaker is hosting foreign dignitaries. It's appropriate to do this properly."
Pamela Eyring, the president and director of the Protocol School of Washington, notes there is no formal training given by the government and the school is the only accredited program in the country. Referring to government aides assigned to these duties, Eyring said, "they have high turnover rates and there's no continuity. You're struggling, trying to find things on the internet, which aren't vetted."
She noted that often those new to dealing with interactions with high level foreign leaders or other dignitaries "can cause serious embarrassment to the United States or to the military if they don't know protocol."
The class the Boehner aide will attend is called "Protocol Officer Training" and is likely to include a mix of about 30 attendees from government, military, and corporate offices.
In the last four years the school has also coached an aide from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, an aide with the House Sergeant at Arms office that handles security, a staffer for the Library of Congress, and employees of the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The school declined to give specifics on what training an aide from the Senate's GOP political arm would receive, but said others from academic institutions and other private groups focused on event planning and fundraising have attended sessions in recent years.
The protocol course covers personal leadership, proper rules on how to seat officials at official events, cross cultural awareness, and the basics of how to write invitations and arrange place cards at dinner tables. Attendees who complete the class receive a certificate and can follow up with experts at the school if they have questions about specific situations. The school has trained officials from the FBI, the CIA, NASA, as well as large companies like Boeing.
Eyring, a former chief of protocol at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Boehner's native state of Ohio, pointed to the speaker's working class roots and said that dealing with world leaders is likely new territory for him. "A lot of people that don't have exposure to international delegations or VIP's don't know what to do. Is it 'your Excellency or your honor?'
Boehner has already begun hosting a series of foreign leaders at the Capitol. Earlier this year he hosted a closed meeting with the Chinese President Hu and Wednesday he opened a joint meeting of Congress with a speech by the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. It's also an annual tradition for the speaker to host a lunch for the President of the United States and the Irish Prime Minister at the Capitol to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.
It's not uncommon for the Speaker of the House to pay staff to handle the details of arranging visits, planning public events or handling who sits next to who on the dais or a dinner table. Boehner's office has assigned one aide who will attend the class to those duties, but his predecessor Nancy Pelosi had two full time aides who handled protocol. But the California congresswoman's spokesman also notes that these two aides had other responsibilities, such as coordinating internal requests from members to host events in various rooms in the Capitol, all of which fall under the speaker's office.
Pelosi's spokesman Drew Hammill, said their office did not pay for either of these aides to attend a class to learn proper etiquette. "We never did this."
One GOP aide said getting up to speed on appropriate procedures helps so Speaker Boehner "knows not to bow to the King of Saudi Arabia," a not so subtle jab referring to controversy that arose when President Obama appeared to bow when he greeted the King of Saudi Arabia in 2009.