Earmark Avoidance

By John Liang / October 6, 2010 at 8:21 PM

Fifty-six House Republicans want Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to avoid including earmarks in any appropriations bills that are passed after the congressional elections next month. In a letter sent to Pelosi this week, those GOP members write:

Beyond sending a short-term continuing resolution to the president, Congress will likely take no further action on fiscal year 2011 spending bills until after Nov. 2. Unfortunately, this sets up the potential for an end-of-year omnibus spending bill. While Congress should finish its business by considering appropriation bills, we write to urge you at a minimum to resist the temptation of including earmarks in any other post-election appropriations scenario.

Earmark lists made available coincident with Fiscal Year 2011 Appropriations Subcommittee markups include thousands of earmarks worth more than $3 billion. Due to the Republican earmark moratorium, all but the slightest fraction of these earmarks were requested by members of the majority. Consistent with previous years, the benefits of this year's earmarking process have unfortunately been showered on powerful members. Democrat leadership, committee chairs and Appropriations Committee members made up slightly more than an eighth of the House. However, they were associated with more than 40 percent of the earmarks included in this year's earmarks lists and, at more than $1.5 billion, greater than half of their dollar value. In addition, thousands of earmarks, worth billions of dollars, have yet to receive even the perfunctory review provided by a full committee mark-up. This is particularly troublesome given the persistent controversy surrounding Fiscal Year 2011 earmarks. In July, The New York Times reported that, despite the ban on earmarks for for-profit companies, "the pay-to-play culture in Washington has once again proved hard to suppress" and that it appears non-profit companies have been incorporated specifically to skirt the ban. In addition, many projects raise the specter of government waste and the need for a thorough review.  For example, a $300,000 earmark intended for the city of Bell, California is among the earmarks yet to be thoroughly vetted. The city of Bell has been in the news recently, with the arrest of eight current and former city officials on multiple charges including misappropriating $5.5 million.

Taxpayers deserve to have appropriations legislation considered under an open and transparent process. At a minimum, taxpayers should be protected from thousands of unvetted earmarks, produced by a process driven by a spoils system, being stuffed into any end-of-year appropriations measure and shielded from review. Having made the decision to leave earmarks out of the final Fiscal Year 2006 spending plan, there is precedent for the majority taking such a step. We appreciate your consideration of this matter.

Inside the Pentagon reported in August that Shay Assad, the Pentagon's director of defense procurement and acquisition policy, had urged the armed services to follow acquisition rules when handling contracts tied to congressional earmarks. Specifically:

In an Aug. 10 memo to the services, U.S. Transportation Command, U.S. Special Operations Command and defense agencies, Assad notes the Defense Department inspector general recently found DOD did not always heed federal and Pentagon rules when awarding contracts with funds earmarked in the fiscal year 2005 budget.