Earmark Transparency Takes a Step Backwards

by Adam Hughes*, 5/13/2009

Kool-Aid ManI came across an article ($) in Roll Call this morning detailing the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's plans for submitting and posting earmark requests for the next transportation reauthorization bill, which is likely to be worked on this fall. The Committee, under the now suspect leadership of Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), will roll back earmark transparency protocols adopted by the House and Senate Appropriations committees in January this year. Hasn't Oberstar gotten the message? Transparency is all the rage these days.

Now granted, we were one of the groups to criticize the structure for implementing the Appropriations Committees plans. But we strongly supported the principle that earmark transparency is crucial to good governance. Oberstar is moving backwards not on implementation, but on the principle itself that information about earmarks should be available to the public and other legislators in Congress. According to Roll Call, Oberstar will not require Members to post their earmark requests publicly for the transportation bill when those requests are submitted to the committee. In fact, it looks like Oberstar may not require those requests to ever be posted. From Roll Call:

Leaders of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee have taken a more lenient approach [to earmark disclosure]. In two letters in the past few weeks, committee leaders reminded Members of a slew of House requirements that must be met for any earmark request to be included in the transportation reauthorization bill, which is likely to approve as much as $500 billion in spending. But the language regarding whether the requests were to be posted on their Web sites differed slightly in the two letters.

"Members are required to post requests on the Member's website," said the letter sent April 2 signed by Oberstar, Transportation ranking member John Mica (R-Fla.), Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and the subcommittee's ranking member, Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.). In a letter sent May 4, Mica and Oberstar merely asked Members to "please post requests for projects" on their Web sites.

There is also this gem from Jim Bernard, Communications Director for the committee: "We are not giving them a hard deadline [or stipulating] we won't consider them until they are posted. Our style is bit different than Mr. Obey's, but our results will be the same." Sorry - quick follow-up Mr. Bernard. How exactly is not requiring earmark requests to be disclosed under the transportation reauthorization the same as requiring earmark requests to be disclosed in appropriations bills?

Roll Call: Oberstar Less Stringent on Earmarks

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