Right now, three years after Congress began trying to make earmarks transparent, I still have to look in three different places if I want to know how much money Rep. James Moran, D-Va., secured for particular beneficiaries in the Defense appropriations act. I have to read a sideways-posted PDF looking for Moran’s requests (like the $1 million for the Ground Combat System Knowledge Center and Technical Inspection Data Capture), and match that project name to one of two enormous PDF files (the bigger is 75 MB) containing earmark disclosure letters from members of Congress (right-side up, but not searchable). The project names in the sideways disclosure don’t always match the project names in the unsearchable disclosure, but in this case they did: Portal Dynamics, an Alexandria, Va.-based contractor, was the beneficiary. To find out why Moran thinks this is a good use of taxpayer funds, I have to search on his Web site and hope that his appropriations requests are still online (they are, but lots of members have removed them), to read that “This funding will provide for a commercial-off-the-shelf technology to
expand the collaborative data environment for accessing, sharing,
integrating and controlling weapons data information. These
capabilities will improve mission readiness, support timely and
accurate procurement of long-lead components, and save millions because
of improved collaboration, employee productivity and maintenance depot.”
When it comes to looking into earmarks, I know what I’m doing, but it still took me about a half hour or so to put that information together for one earmark (note that I haven’t bothered to check whether this earmark was funded at $1 million in the final bill signed by President Barack Obama–$1 million is the amount that the House Appropriations Committee approved; finding out the final amount involves another step…). For the record, reconstructing Senate earmarks is even more difficult: Senators don’t file individual disclosure letters listing the beneficiaries of their earmarks.
That’s why President’s call–in the State of the Union, no less–for a single, unified earmarks database that would track them from request to funding (and beyond–why not have as part of the database a review of the worthiness of the earmark, sort of an expectmore.gov for earmarks) is so important. Such a resource would finally give constituents all the information they need to find out about their elected representatives funding priorities.
It’s worth noting that some in Congress already have access to such a resource (albeit split into two different formats that, chances are, couldn’t easily be combined into a single database. Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have internal databases for tracking earmarks. Members submit earmark requests via a Web-based interface containing all the information wed like to see (beneficiary name, address, amount requested, project description, justification, and more).
There is no reason that the public shouldn’t have as complete information on earmarks as appropriators.