Pork reigns supreme at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue

President Bush rarely misses a chance to demand that Congress temper its enthusiasm for earmarks, regularly insisting that pork-addicted lawmakers wean themselves from the practice.

But among the most compulsive earmarkers, Bush stands out as the most prolific practitioner of them all, according to preliminary statistics compiled by Taxpayers for Common Sense.

The nonpartisan watchdog group, which has helped stoke public outrage over earmarks, reports the total value of 1,648 presidential "earmarks" in the fiscal 2008 omnibus appropriations bill at $16.38 billion.

That compares to the $15.33 billion value of the 11,145 congressional earmarks the group has identified in the omnibus and in the enacted fiscal 2008 Defense spending bill.

The presidential figure, though, includes requests made by the president solely or jointly with lawmakers.

Rank hypocrisy? Well, perhaps not precisely.

Bush aides say their earmarks get a full review within federal agencies. With such vetting, they are deemed justifiable spending requests, unlike the sausage ground out by Congress, they say.

"The president lays out all of his proposals clearly and provides cost justification for each in the budget every year, whereas Congress remains addicted to air-dropping last-minute spending projects into spending legislation without any merit or reason [or] theme aside from seniority and district representation," said an OMB spokesman. "That's the key difference."

And up to a point, the anti-government waste crowd agrees.

"That's really where the system is working -- when the agency and the president request funding for a project," said David Williams of Citizens Against Government Waste, another earmark-hating watchdog group that has been more critical of the Democratic-led Congress. CAGW did not even count presidential earmarks this year.

"It's really checks and balances -- an agency is vetting the process," said Williams.

Congressional leaders assert they put the smell test to lawmaker requests, too. "Earmarks here go through a review by Appropriations committee members and staff," said one House Democratic leadership aide.

"It's still an earmark," says Taxpayers for Common Sense's Steve Ellis of the presidential variety. "It's still possible that earmarks are being targeted to benefit particular entities, companies or locations."

Consider, for example, the president's judgment that the F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming needs $14,600 to "Renovate Historic Dormitories."

Camp Pendleton in California needs $8,510 for a physical fitness center. And the president sought hundreds of millions of dollars for water projects in the Energy and Water spending portion of the omnibus.

Williams said that even though the requests are reviewed by the agencies, monkey business might occur after the money is appropriated, when White House officials may exert influence on how the cash is actually spent. His group has been unable to track the process. "We have not been able to crack that code yet," he said.

Ellis observed that presidential earmarks help provide cover for lawmakers to push their own pet projects.

They often team up with the president to "plus up" his original request if it is directed toward their state or district.

The Energy and Water Appropriations bill is particularly fertile ground for joint presidential and congressional earmarks that often exceed the president's original earmark request.

For example, the dreaded Asian carp, a fish that has been eating its way up the Mississippi River, decimating native species, and now threatens to swim into Lake Michigan and begin feasting on fish there.

Bush proposed an earmark of $750,000 to help build an electrical barrier that would shock the carp back down the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and keep them out of the lake.

By the time the Energy and Water bill was approved by the Senate, Bush was joined by four Democrats -- Majority Whip Dick Durbin and fellow Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, and Michigan Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow -- in a five-way earmark providing $3.25 million for the electric fish fence.

"If the president requests it, someone is saying, 'right on!' " Ellis said.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.