Defense “Earmarks” Squander $1.6 Billion a Year
Policy + Politics

Defense “Earmarks” Squander $1.6 Billion a Year

Reuters/iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times

The U.S. Defense Department could easily spend $1.6 billion less this year.

That’s the finding in the 2014 Congressional Pig Book, a report published by Citizens Against Government Waste that highlights what it considers to be pork-barrel spending in Washington’s post-earmark era. In 2011, Congress implemented a ban on earmarks--taxpayer dollars spent in a specific way, often to the benefit of their constituents or campaign donors. CAGW, a nonpartisan watchdog group, says that moratorium is in name only.

The Pig Book defines an earmark as a provision in an annual spending bill that satisfies at least one of the following criteria: not authorized by a congressional committee; not competitively awarded; requested by only one chamber of Congress; not requested by the president; greatly exceeds the White House budget request or the previous year’s funding level; not the subject of a congressional hearing; or serves only a local or special interest.

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Defense spending this year contains 58 earmarks costing $1.6 billion, compared with 68 earmarks that accounted for $2 billion in fiscal 2012, according to the report. Still, defense-related earmarks comprise 59.3 percent of the $2.7 billion found in the 12 annual spending bills for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1, 2013.

The bulk of the defense provisions cited pertain to funding for research programs similar to those conducted by other agencies. For example, cancer-related research at the Pentagon came to $25.5 million, despite $4.9 billion in funding for the National Cancer Institute in a separate appropriations bill. Research into alternative fuels will cost $60 million this year and overlap with similar programs in the energy and water spending bill, the report said.

“Earmarks are the gateway drug to the culture of corruption and spending in Washington,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said at a news conference to discuss the report’s findings. He said bipartisan deals should not consist of handing out what amount to earmarks in order to get everyone to agree.

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One of the lawmakers speaking at the event was Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican who, along with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), has consistently supported funding for M1 Abrams tank upgrades that the Pentagon doesn’t want. Jordan’s congressional district is home to the nation’s main Abrams tank facility.

“It’s hard to say he’s not a fiscal conservative,” said Thomas Schatz, president of CAGW, noting that Jordan did not offer an amendment calling for the upgrades funding during the appropriations process.

Modernizing the tanks this year will cost taxpayers $90 million, according to the CAGW report. The House Armed Services Committee wants to authorize $120 million next year for more upgrades, even though the Pentagon budget didn’t request any funding.

Overall, pork-barrel provisions fell to 109 this year, from 152 in 2012, according to the report. The price tag also declined, to $2.7 billion from $3.3 billion.

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One challenge to identifying pet projects in the wake of the earmark ban is finding out who requested the funding. But some lawmakers say that obstacle is preferable to the years when earmarks were ingrained in Washington culture and viewed as necessary for greasing the legislative wheels.

“We don’t want to return to those days,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who served 12 years in the House before becoming a senator in 2014.

Earmarks hit a record $29 billion in 2006, according to CAGW.

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