Oink, oink, the Congressional Pig Report squeals on pork

capitol-pigCitizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) has released this year’s Congressional Pig Book. The report offers a glimpse at projects that are the “most blatant examples of pork.”

CAGW determines which projects are pork based on seven criteria. All the items in the Congressional Pig Book meet at least one of the criteria, but most satisfy at least two:

• 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 late Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), otherwise known as “The King of Pork,” said of CAGW on National Public Radio, in July 2001, “Those peckerwoods don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t. They’re not being realistic.” Known for the bridge to nowhere, late Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), told the Associated Press in December 26, 1999, “All they are is a bunch of psychopaths.”

And the pork continues.

The 2012 Pig Book noted that although there were “fewer earmarks than in prior years, the projects involved larger amounts of money and included fewer details. This is also true in 2014. For instance, a $25 million earmark for the National Predisaster Mitigation Fund appearing in the FY 2014 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations Act corresponds to 58 earmarks totaling $24.6 million for the same program in the FY 2010 DHS bill. The 2010 earmarks appeared in the “Congressionally Directed Spending” section at the end of the bill, which contained the names of the members of Congress requesting each project and its location, as required by the pertinent transparency rules. This is in stark contrast to the FY 2014 earmark, which contains no such information.”

The 2014 omnibus package was certified as earmark-free by Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio). Members of Congress will argue that their standards differ from the earmark criteria used in the Pig Book, but that has been true since the first Pig Book in 1991. The pork-free claim can also be challenged based on the inclusion of projects that have appeared in past appropriations bills as earmarks. In addition to meeting CAGW’s long-standing seven-point criteria, to qualify for inclusion in the 2014 Pig Book a project or program must have appeared in prior years as an earmark.

The total number and cost of earmarks are, therefore, quite conservative.

The report found that the “earmark moratorium has not only failed to eliminate earmarks, but also made the process patently less transparent. Since earmarks were deemed to be non-existent in the FY 2014 omnibus bill, there are no names of legislators, no list or chart of earmarks, and limited information on where and why the money will be spent. 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 are an improvement over prior years, transparency and accountability have regressed immeasurably.”

According to the report, “The earmarks in FYs 2012 and 2014 raise disturbing questions for the future, particularly since representatives and senators from both sides of the aisle continue to clamor for their revival. One of the most frequently-used arguments in favor of earmarks is that they would help pass certain spending bills. In the past, however, members have voted for excessively expensive legislation because they have received a few earmarks, which means the moratorium has helped restrain spending. Should Congress get back on the pork-barrel track, there will be an increased risk of corruption, the potential for an explosion in earmarks, and the enactment of more costly legislation.”

The CAGW has exposed the pork-barrel for 22 years. They brought the public’s attention to $90 million spent to upgrade the M1 Abrams tank, which is opposed by the Pentagon; $15 million allocated to the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, secured by Senate Appropriations Committee member Patty Murray (D-Wash.); $5.9 million for the East-West Center, which was a “victory” according to CAGW, “for Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii); and $150,000 for the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation, a pet project of Senate Appropriations Committee member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.).”

Report highlights:

$45,122,000 for the high intensity drug trafficking areas program (HIDTA) at the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Originally intended for border states, members of Congress have used earmarks to expand HIDTA to non-border states. Since FY 1997, 28 earmarks costing taxpayers $161.6 million have been provided for HIDTA programs; 16 of the earmarks were directed to programs in 10 states, only two of which, Arizona and New Mexico, are border states. The other eight states that received HIDTA earmarks were Alabama, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

$10,000,000 for high energy cost grants through the Department of Agriculture. The grants are intended to assist communities whose energy costs exceed 275 percent of the national average by funding the construction, installation, and repair of energy distribution facilities.

This may sound like a bright idea, but the RUS Electric Loan program is intended to achieve the same objective. Both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations have attempted to eliminate the high energy cost program. President Obama’s FY 2013 version of Cuts, Consolidations, and Savings noted that low-interest electric loans are available through the RUS to residents of rural areas served by the high energy cost program. The grants are available in Alaska, Hawaii, several communities in certain other states, and in U.S. territories. Since FY 2002, high energy cost grants have received five earmarks totaling $103.5 million.

$7,000,000 for the Rand Arroyo Center. Located in the district of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the facility has received four earmarks costing $15.4 million since FY 2005. In FY 2010, Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee member Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee member James Moran (D-Va.) requested a $1.6 million earmark for the center, and Sen. Feinstein also added a $4 million earmark in FY 2009.

$2,604,000 for the Denali Commission, which was established in 1998. The commission’s inspector general, Mike Marsh, stated in September 2013 that “I have concluded that [my agency] is a congressional experiment that hasn’t worked out in practice…I recommend that Congress put its money elsewhere.” President Obama targeted the commission for elimination in his FY 2012 budget, arguing that its projects are not funded through a competitive or merit-based system and that at least 29 other federal programs could fulfill the commission’s mandate. Since FY 2000, 25 projects costing taxpayers $293.2 million have been earmarked for the Denali Commission, most of which were requested by former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). His legacy of Denali pork has been carried on by the Alaska delegation. Senate appropriator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) requested six earmarks costing taxpayers a total of $51 million in FYs 2009 and 2010; Senate appropriator Mark Begich (D-Alaska) requested two earmarks jointly with Sen. Murkowski in FY 2010, costing taxpayers $12.3 million; and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) also requested one of the FY 2010 earmarks, costing $10 million.

$150,000 for the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation, a 20-year-old program that gives prizes for achievements in agricultural and life sciences as well as homeland security research. Since its creation, no administration has ever requested funding for the foundation. President Obama has labeled the program inefficient and redundant, cited its high overhead costs, and has included it in each of the administration’s annual submissions of spending cuts, consolidations, and savings. Members of Congress have attempted to cut funding, including Sen. Coburn, who in 2011 introduced S. 475, which would have enacted the President’s suggestion to eliminate the foundation along with several other proposals from the administration’s FY 2011 Terminations, Reductions, and Savings.

In 2013, House Republicans targeted the foundation in an initiative entitled YouCut, which allowed online voters to choose potential spending reductions. A January 22, 2013 Washington Post article explained how the program has been so resilient: it has a very powerful patron on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Each time the program has been threatened by the President or budget hawks in Congress, Senate Appropriations Committee member (and former chairman) Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) has swooped in to restore funding, including in FY 2008 when Sen. Cochran requested a $600,000 earmark for the foundation. While this year’s earmark cannot be positively attributed to Sen. Cochran, given his past support for the program, it seems highly likely that his fingerprints are on the earmark.

As the preeminent congressional porker, Sen. Cochran requested 709 earmarks costing taxpayers $1.9 billion between FYs 2008-2010, the three years in which members were required to identify their earmark requests. He requested both the highest number and dollar amount of earmarks in each of those years.

To read the report 2014-Congressional-Pig-Book click here.

4 Comments

  1. What we need is “Kosher” pork in Washington.

    While line item veto and zero based budgeting are great concepts; nothing
    is going to work as long as the current corrupt career politician model is
    in effect.

  2. Pork! It will never stop, we keep paying for incompetent representation, we pay people we should be able to trust to run this country and what we get is blatant corruption and arrogance. Add corruption and arrogance in govt. to death and taxes list, of this we can be sure of.

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