So-called pork spending has increased in the five years since Congress banned earmarks, according to a government group tracking federal spending.
“Pork-barrel spending is alive and well in Washington, D.C., despite claims to the contrary,” Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) said in its annual Congressional Pig Book released Wednesday.
The 2017 Pig Book is not as flashy as other years. “While there are no earmarks…for an indoor rainforest or a teapot museum, there are some troublesome expenditures,” Tom Schatz, president of CAGW, said during a press conference Wednesday.
Members of Congress “have steadily ramped up the use of earmarks in each year since the initiation of the earmark moratorium,” the report claims, but usually for duplicative government initiatives, or for programs that the executive branch views as unnecessary or already over-funded.
The report calls out 163 earmarks in the 2017 fiscal year costing $6.8 billion, compared to 123 earmarks that cost $5.1 billion in 2016.
To meet CAGW’s definition of an earmark, a legislatively-funded project must be requested by only one chamber of Congress, not specifically authorized, not competitively awarded, not requested by the president, exceed the president’s budget request or the previous year’s funding by a significant amount, not the subject of congressional hearings, or serving primarily a local or special interest.
One initiative often criticized by fiscal hawks, the Delta Regional Authority, which funds local projects, received $15 million from two agencies, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy in 2017 appropriations.
The Republican Study Committee says the DRA, along with the Appalachian Regional Commission, are duplicative of other federal programs, and are “ill-equipped to adequately prioritize local infrastructure and development projects.” Former President Barack Obama recommended a $3 million reduction, and President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget recommends eliminating the entire agency, yet the earmarks in 2017 appropriations nearly doubled the $15.9 million budget for the agency.
Another program, called the Starbase Youth Program, is funded with $30 million from the defense appropriations bill to provide science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) training to children living in and around military facilities. The Government Accountability Office noted 209 overlapping STEM programs in 2012, yet the Starbase program continues.
Though “it’s not legal to bring forward earmarks, you still have a few slip through on the margins,” Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake said at the press conference. Flake and fellow Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa have tried to push a permanent ban on earmarks, rather than renewing the ban each session.
“We have a ban on earmarks now, we ought to stick to it to protect the taxpayers and the treasury,” Flake said.
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