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No Lull in Earmarks

POSTED: 11:15 AM ET, 07/16/2008 by Derek Kravitz

Despite pledges from congressional leaders to halt the rising number of pork-barrel spending projects tucked into massive spending bills, the earmark process is alive and kicking, according to the House's spending bills for 2009 and databases created by Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan federal budget watchdog.

The earmarks in the House version of the labor, health and human services appropriations bill for the 2009 fiscal year jumped to $618.8 million from $277.9 million compared with the bill in 2008, according to Citizens Against Government Waste, a nonpartisan watchdog group in Washington.

And these numbers are only a fraction of the thousands of earmark requests that lawmakers push forward. A sampling of what some lawmakers asked for can be found online, courtesy of The Sunlight Foundation and their handy list of all the congressional leaders who have publicly disclosed their earmark requests.

The Post's Investigations blog looked at some of the more notable spending projects and compiled the following list:

The 104 earmarks tucked into the Department of Homeland Security's spending bill, which had no earmarks a few years ago, amounted to roughly $180 million and included:

-- The New Orleans-based National Domestic Preparedness Consortium, which received $92 million, $60 million more than President Bush requested. The Federal Emergency Management Agency program offers disaster training to state and local emergency responders.

-- The U.S. Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer Training Facility in Elizabeth City, N.C., which got $15 million to build a brand-new complex, complete with a 50-by-25-meter pool with a 12-foot deep end.

-- The National Institute for Hometown Security's "Community-Based Infrastructure Protection Solutions" program, which received $11 million. The private, non-profit organization in Somerset, Ky., acts as an academic think tank in brainstorming ideas to protect critical infrastructure from an attack.

Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), the ranking minority member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, helped get that earmark for the institute, which he helped to create four years ago.

The 1,126 earmarks worth about $442.5 million in the House version of the Commerce, Justice and Science spending bill amounts to a 13 percent jump in spending over last year:

-- Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) netted $1.5 million in earmarks in that bill, including $700,000 for Cook Inlet Beluga Whale research by the National Marine Science Foundation; $500,000 for police officer hiring and training in the Northwest Arctic Borough; and $300,000 for outreach and education for the Steller Sea Lion program at the Alaska Sea Otter and Steller Sea Lion Commission in Anchorage.

Young, who is the subject of a federal probe, also sponsored a now-infamous $223 million measure to build a bridge to a tiny island near Alaska, population 50. The "Bridge to Nowhere," as it was dubbed by its critics, was killed in 2005 after it sparked widespread outrage.

-- Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) steered $400,000 to the Solar Energy Consortium, a group of private and public companies and institutions that will develop new ways "to efficiently and effectively deliver energy from the sun," according to its Web site.

Hinchey helped found the consortium and pushed through at least $1.5 million in earmarks in previous years to get the initiative off the ground.

Of the 1,371 earmarks contained in the House's Health and Human Services and Labor spending bills, many of the top projects were for state civic education programs, Teach for America and Arts in Education programs. But other projects, such as the Alaska Native Educational Equity program, are a bit murkier.

The program, which funds supplemental education for Native Alaskans, has come under scrutiny from Republican lawmakers who have questioned its effectiveness.

Young, who called funding for the program last year during House debate "my money," is the sponsor of that earmark, which is priced at $33.5 million.

--Derek Kravitz and Dan Morgan

By Derek Kravitz |  July 16, 2008; 11:15 AM ET
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