Obama Administration May Take on Earmarks

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While there’s currently a so-called “ban” on earmarks in the Congress, it’s widely reported that this earmark ban isn’t really effective, because Members just write letters to the administration, requesting funding for their pet projects.

The Obama administration may finally drag this practice into the light, according to the National Journal.

Since March, Sunlight has been pointing to an Executive Order issued under Bush that requires agencies to post requests for funding sent by Congress online.  Agency officials are required to ignore verbal requests for funding, and post any paper copies online.

The only problem with this order is that nobody seemed to have heard of it, and the agencies were almost completely out of compliance with the order.

This is made even more clear as a flood of investigative pieces have demonstrated Members’ requests for funding, often in a manner in contradiction with their public anti-spending personae.  We’ve been compliling a list of those stories, to bolster the case that these requests should be public, and that the Obama administration should implement and enforce this order. (Here’s a recent New York Times letter to the editor to that effect, for example.)

The National Journal piece suggests that the administration will refer to, and add to this order, requiring agencies to start posting spending requests that they receive. The President should sign this Executive Order, and require Members of Congress to stand publicly for the spending they would prefer to request in private.

Sunlight would also like to see this disclosure done in as strong a way as possible.  Images of letters are difficult to reuse and analyze, so they should be posted with the actual text exposed, through OCR if necessary.  Agencies should disclose these requests retrospectively, as well, since there’s a wealth of important information contained in the letters Members have sent in recent years.

It looks like the administration has gotten the message on earmark accountability. We can’t wait to look through what they’ve got.

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