OMB Pressured to Invoke Bush Directive Banning Earmarks
Budget director asked to enforce 2008 deterrent to spending on pet projects.
Two transparency groups with ties across the political spectrum are petitioning the Office of Management and Budget to curb spending by enforcing a George W. Bush-era executive order aimed at halting “wasteful earmarks.”
In a letter to White House Budget Director Shaun Donovan, the nonprofits Cause of Action and Demand Progress asked OMB to update and reissue 2008 Executive Order 13457, “Protecting American Taxpayers from Government Spending on Wasteful Earmarks.”
The letter dated Oct. 7 described an earmark as “a provision associated with legislation that specifies certain congressional spending priorities or applies to a very limited number of individuals or entities.” It
noted that the executive order would apply to earmarks in legislation, congressional committee reports or communications from or on behalf of members of Congress.
Cause of Action’s study of federal discretionary spending through Freedom of Information Act records and federal databases since 2011 “revealed that OMB’s current efforts to ensure that discretionary grant decision-making is transparent and merit-based are ineffective,” its statement said. “As a result, political appointees and others can use federal tax dollars to reward political allies and appease powerful interests.”
A check of agency website treatments of congressional earmarks found that only five of 17 agencies have a page dedicated to posting congressional communications and only one has been updated since 2009, the groups said.
The letter urged OMB to take five steps:
- Confirm that E.O. 13457 “binds discretionary spending;”
- Affirm that allocation of discretionary funds outside a transparent, merit-based decision-making process is prohibited;
- Recognize that Congress and non-congressional “individuals such as executive branch officials, state and local politicians, registered lobbyists, and donors can and do exert pressure on discretionary spending decision-making on federal projects, programs, contracts, and grants”;
- Require executive departments and agencies to make available to the public, in searchable form on the Internet, records of all written and oral communications from any source that reference earmarks;
- Direct executive departments and agencies to make records of these communications publicly available through their respective websites within 30 days of receiving such communications, and include the practice in their Open Government Plans.
“Cause of Action’s research shows that for years, federal agencies have been ignoring a binding executive order designed to protect taxpayer dollars from being misused, “ said the group’s executive director, Daniel Epstein. “Our organizations believe that Washington has a duty to the public to ensure that federal discretionary spending decisions are transparent and merit-based.”
Demand Progress Policy Director Daniel Schuman said: “The administration must add a measure of transparency to earmark requests received by executive branch agencies. Federal spending decisions should be made on merit and in the sunshine. There already is an executive order on the books that addresses secret calls and letters by Congress and special pleaders. It is time to enforce it.”
White House spokesmen did not respond to inquiries by publication time.
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