Last week I wrote about the short-sighted decision by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN) not to require members to disclosure their earmark requests for the 2009 Transportation reauthorization bill. As I noted, this decision is a step backward in the House on earmark transparency and disclosure - as the Appropriations committees have adopted more strict disclosure protocols for all appropriations bills this year. Despite this setback, there is good news to report this week.
Two members of the House, Reps. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Jackie Speier (D-CA), introduced a bill the day after the Oberstar announcement to improve transparency and accountability in the earmarking process. Their bill would change the House Rules to strengthen and standardize online earmark disclosures, including centralized, searchable databases maintained by all committees that accepts earmark requests. Here's a quick summary of the provisions of the bill taken from a press release from Cassidy's office:
1) Requiring Members to disclose their earmark requests on their websites and include a homepage link to their disclosures using the word "earmark;"
2) Requiring that Members maintain the disclosure link on their homepages for at least 30 days and requiring that disclosure pages remain online for the remainder of the Congressional Session;
3) Requiring any Committee accepting earmark requests to maintain a searchable online database of Members' earmark requests;
4) Prohibit consideration of legislation containing earmarks that does not satisfy the above requirements.
This is a long-overdue and common-sense approach to how earmark disclosure should be handled in Congress. Bravo to Reps. Cassidy and Speier leading the charge, and also to the Sunlight Foundation and Taxpayers for Common Sense for spearheading this effort.
Image by Flickr user roberthuffstutter used under a Creative Commons license.