November 4, 2007

Porking Up Defense In A Time Of War

Republicans and Democrats alike share one common impulse in Congress: to pork up any appropriation that exits the legislature. One might think that this impulse would get diminished in a time of war, especially regarding defense appropriations. Instead, the opportunity to earmark for their own political purposes grows more attractive given the vital nature of the underlying appropriation. This year, over $3 billion in pork will get attached to the defense appropriation bill representing 1,337 separate earmarks -- and that's just in the House version:

Even though members of Congress cut back their pork barrel spending this year, House lawmakers still tacked on to the military appropriations bill $1.8 billion to pay 580 private companies for projects the Pentagon did not request.

Twenty-one members were responsible for about $1 billion in earmarks, or financing for pet projects, according to data lawmakers were required to disclose for the first time this year. Each asked for more than $20 million for businesses mostly in their districts, ranging from major military contractors to little known start-ups.

The list is topped by the veteran earmark champions Representative John P. Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat who is the chairman of the powerful defense appropriations subcommittee, and Representative C. W. Bill Young of Florida, the top Republican on the panel, who asked for $166 million and $117 million respectively. It also includes $92 million in requests from Representative Jerry Lewis, Republican of California, a committee member who is under federal investigation for his ties to a lobbying firm whose clients often benefited from his earmarks.

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, requested $32 million in earmarks, while Steny H. Hoyer, the majority leader, asked for $26 million for projects in the $459.6 billion defense bill, the largest of the appropriations bills that go through Congress.

The New York Times makes it sound better than it actually is. The actual total of earmaking in this bill comes to over $3 billion. The smaller figure of $1.8 billion does not include money going to universities, military bases outside of specific Pentagon requests, and "public institutions". It also doesn't include $5 billion in Senate pork, which will likely just get tacked onto the House version, if recent history gives us any guide. The Times could not deconstruct the Senate earmarks, thanks to the rules of the upper chamber which protect Senators from disclosing their earmark requests.

Marilyn Thompson and Ron Nixon do a good job of identifying the major beneficiaries of the House pork, along with their lobbying outlays in getting it, in an accompanying graphic. Our recent focus on Concurrent Technologies appears spot-on; they get another $18 million for only $160,000 of lobbying. However, they rank only 9th on the list of pork recipients from this year's taxpayer barbeque. Let's meet a few more of the winners:

L-3 Communications: #1 on this list, will get $69.5 million in earmarks for $140,000 of lobbying. They had almost $6 billion in government contracts in 2006, only 27% of which came from competitive bids. Jim Moran (D) and Chip Pickering (R) top the list of Congressional district beneficiaries of these contracts.

DRS Technologies: They will get $31.5 million in earmarks, but paid more than $1.3 million in lobbying to get it, making it the worst return on investment in the top 10 firms -- still a whopping 2400%. They had to compete for 58% of their $1.2 billion in government contracts in 2006. James Moran's district got the biggest slice of DRS spending, too.

Raytheon: The venerable defense contractor wins $30 million off of almost a million in lobbying costs. Only 16% of their 2006 contracts came from fully competitive bidding. Marty Meehan's Congressional district got over a billion of Raytheon's largesse, which means Nikki Tsongas has a good cushion of pork coming into her freshman season in the House.

General Dynamics: They got $26 million from $580,000 in lobbying. In 2006, less than a third of their $11 billion in government contracts came through fully competitive bidding. Bernie Sanders and Washington DC are the two big winners in GD spending for 2006.

Do people get the picture? Pork-barrel politics helps secure sinecures for beneficiaries, helping to perpetuate non-competitive procurement. In return, the politicians get plenty of lobbyist attention and make it more difficult for voters to hold them accountable for their performance. That's bad enough with any appropriation bill at any time, but for politicians to play these games with defense spending in a time of war is particularly despicable.


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