They’re Back! Congress Snuck $4.2 Billion Earmarks Despite 2011 Moratorium

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Ethan Barton Editor in Chief
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Congress snuck an estimated $4.2 billion in earmarks into the 2015 appropriation bills, despite a 2011 moratorium that was supposed to end such spending abuse, a government watchdog reported Wednesday.

Citizens Against Government Waste’s latest edition of its annual Pig Book said that earmarks’ cost increased by more than 50 percent from $2.7 billion in 2014 to $4.2 billion in 2015.

“Unfortunately, the earmark moratorium has not only failed to eliminate earmarks, but also made the process patently less transparent,” the CAGW report said. “There are no names of legislators, no list or chart of earmarks and limited information on where and why the money will be spent.”

The number of earmarks identified by the report decreased from 109 in 2014 to 105 in 2015, meaning the average cost of each has increased.

The Pig Book illustrated the change through a Federal Emergency Management Agency program, the National Predisaster Mitigation Fund, which received $25 million through a single earmark in 2015. The fund benefited from 58 earmarks in 2010, but received $400,000 less.

The CAGW’s criteria for identifying earmarks — established in the first Pig Book in 1991– are broader than those used by Congress. The 2015 report marks the third time CAGW found earmarks in appropriations bills since the moratorium.

“The question for those in Congress who deny the existence of earmarks in the appropriations bills is: Why were these projects previously considered earmarks, but not in 2015?” the report said.

Nearly half of the earmarks’ costs — $2.3 billion — were in the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, marking more than a 40 percent increase from 2014.

The Defense Health Program received nearly $1.1 billion through 27 earmarks for health and disease research. Another $120 million was appropriated to upgrade the M1 Abrams tank — a project that Pentagon officials have opposed, according to the report.

“Although the tank plant is located in Lima, Ohio, its suppliers are spread across the country, which helps to explain the widespread support,” the Pig Book said. “The Army has so many M1 tanks that 2,000 of them are parked in a California desert.”

“There’s nothing like a good old-fashion jobs program disguised as national security,” the report said. The upgrade program has cost taxpayers nearly $1 billion through 38 earmarks since 1994.

The Pentagon also received appropriations for duplicative programs, such as an $86 million domestic counter-drug program and $20 million for alternative energy research.

The Fund for the Improvement of Education, which provides grants to public and private sector education institutions, received a nearly $300 million earmark — an increase of more than 1,000 percent from the $21.1 million appropriated in 2014. The grant program has received more than 2,500 earmarks since 2001.

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