The congressional moratorium on earmarks has drastically reduced the amount of pork barrel spending in Washington, but billions of taxpayer dollars are still lost on redundant or worthless programs and the perpetrators are now harder to identify.
Citizens Against Government Waste is out with its “2015 Congressional Pig Book.” The group uses several criteria to determine if a project counts as pork barrel spending. Items requested by only one member or appropriated without competitive bidding are telltale signs, as are expenditures not requested by the president or that greatly exceed his budget request. Spending that only benefits a specific local area is another red flag.
In the 2015 report, 105 projects are identified as pork, costing taxpayers $4.2 billion.
“We continue to find earmarks after the moratorium, but it’s way down from the record $29 billion in 2006,” said Citizens Against Government Waste President Tom Schatz.
“It’s up from 2014, but $4.2 billion is fairly small compared to years of tens of billions (in spending) and fifteen or sixteen thousand (earmarks). Now there are 105,” said Schatz.
However, Schatz is quick to assert that “fairly small” is still not good enough.
“Everything still counts. We still have a large deficit even though it’s lower than it used to be, lots of liabilities for future entitlements. Every penny, every million counts here in Washington,” said Schatz.
In 2014, the “Congressional Pig Book” counted 109 pork projects, so that number is slightly lower. However, spending is up significantly from $2.7 billion a year ago. The jump to $4.2 billion constitutes more than a 55 percent increase.
“What they’ve done essentially is put into single earmarks what used to be multiple earmarks. So a $25 million earmark that used to be divided among 58 members of Congress is now just a $25 million earmark and we’re not quite sure who’s going to get the money,” said Schatz.
So is pork barrel spending really on the decline or are lawmakers just doing a better job of disguising it?
“Little bit of both,” said Schatz, who says some members make it pretty clear they are behind these earmarks.
“There are a few we can track to members of Congress. There’s $5.9 billion fore the East-West Center in Hawaii, which Sen. Brian Schatz, no relation I might add, has requested over the past few years. There’s $15 million for the Pacific Salmon Recovery Trust Fund out in Washington State and California, which Sen. Patty Murray specifically said she requested,” said Schatz.
Schatz says defense spending is responsible for multiple earmark violations.
“For example, $25 million for a science, technology, engineering and math program through the Department of Defense, when there are more than 200 of those STEM programs identified by the Government Accountability Office in 2012. Not only is it duplicative but the Department of Defense shouldn’t be teaching kids science and math education. That’s up to other agencies,” said Schatz.
The Pentagon ventures into seemingly unrelated fields doesn’t stop with education.
“Why is the Defense Department spending $20 million dollars for alternative energy research when there are billions of dollars for that purpose in the Energy and Water Bill where, if the government should be spending money at all, they should be spending money on alternative energy research,” said Schatz.
Even projects that no longer have a sponsor and no one wants to keep find a way to survive.
“Here’s a great example, not a lot of money but an absolute waste: $2.6 million for the Denali Commission, created in 1998 to build rural infrastructure in Alaska. Even President Obama said to get rid of this in 2012. The inspector general of the Denali Commission himself said, ‘I’ve concluded my agency is a congressional experiment that has not worked out. Congress should put the taxpayers’ money somewhere else,'” said Schatz.
The “Pig Book” has many other eye-opening revelations. Money for the Fund for the Improvement of Education soared from $21.1 billion in 2014 to more than $298 billion this year even though Obama did not request funding for it. The feds are also spending more than three million dollars per year on the Valles Caldera National Preserve even though government spending was supposed to end this year.
For Schatz, the problem of congressional pork isn’t going anywhere, but things are moving in a more responsible direction.
“There are still some outrageous examples of waste but they are far fewer,” he said.
Copies of the “2015 Congressional Pig Book” can be obtained for a small donation at cagw.org or by calling (800) 232-6479, which translates to (800) BE ANGRY.