Citizens Against Government Waste unveils “2012 Pig Book”
By now you’ve heard that a company spent $200,000 from the federal “stimulus” to move a one shrub in the way of a $1 billion highway project near San Francisco. This sort one recent example is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to wasteful spending flowing out of Washington.
If not for a few watchdogs, this would have flown under the radar. Thankfully, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) has published its annual Pig Book, which serves as a guide for taxpayers to wasteful spending their representatives and Senators vote for in appropriations bills.
Many will no doubt take issue with what is or isn’t an earmark. Some members of Congress or supporters of a specific project may say that it’s needed in whatever way and shouldn’t be scrutinized. However, CAGW defines an earmark as any project:
- Requested by only one chamber of Congress;
- Not specifically authorized;
- Not competitively awarded;
- Not requested by the President;
- Greatly exceeds the President’s budget request or the previous year’s funding;
- Not the subject of congressional hearings; or
- Serves only a local or special interest.
The report brings a rare bit of good news this year. According to CAWG, the number of earmarks passed by Congress “has dropped by 98.3 percent, from 9,129 in FY 2010 to 152 in FY 2012” and the cost “has decreased by 80 percent, from $16.5 billion in FY 2010 to $3.3 billion in FY 2012, which is the lowest amount since 1992.”
The bad news is that House Republicans are backing away from their earmark moratorium and there is still a lot of pork in budgets passed by Congress and even less transparency:
The earmarks in FY 2012 involve larger amounts of money and include fewer details than in prior years. For example, a $50 million earmark for the National Guard Counter-Drug Program appearing in the Department of Defense (DOD) Appropriations Act for FY 2012 corresponds to nine earmarks totaling $22.9 million in the FY 2010 DOD bill. The FY 2010 projects appeared in the “Congressionally Directed Spending” section at the end of the bill, and contained the names of the members requesting each project and its location, as required by the transparency rules. In addition, members created new categories of earmarks, such as “additional funding for ongoing work” and “continuing authorities program,” both of which appear in the Army Corps of Engineers section of the Energy and Water Appropriations Act.
The supposed lack of earmarks resulted in a completely opaque process. Since earmarks were deemed to be non-existent, there were no names of legislators, no information on where and why the money will be spent, and no list or chart of earmarks in the appropriations bills or reports. Earmarks were scattered throughout the legislative and report language, requiring substantial detective work to unearth each project. While the lower number and cost of earmarks is a vast improvement over prior years, transparency and accountability have regressed immeasurably.
In fact, the next step in tracking earmarks is to enforce the requirement in President Bush’s January 29, 2008, Executive Order that each federal agency release all communications from members of Congress regarding any earmark. It is not a coincidence that past earmarked programs are being aggregated into a single sum that is in some cases tens of millions of dollars higher than the amount requested in the president’s budget. In November 2011, President Obama circulated a memo that reiterated the need for agencies to release letters from members of Congress that direct agency staff to fund particular projects.
Because a moratorium is not a permanent ban on earmarks, senators from both sides of the aisle are proposing such a ban as an amendment to legislation moving through the Senate. One reason for this effort is the fact that several members of Congress have called for the moratorium to be lifted at the end of this Congress. For example, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Senate appropriator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and Reps. Ron Paul (R-Texas), Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), and Don Young (R-Alaska) have all been critical of the continuation of the earmark moratorium. Until a ban is established, taxpayers will be justified in their belief that members of Congress are being creative and deceptive in skirting the moratorium and continuing to obtain earmarks.
You can find some examples of the projects that CAGW criticizes in the report here. The full report is available here (PDF). You can watch the unveiling of the report by CAGW President Tom Schatz and several members of Congress below: