Changing the Trend on Earmarks

For too many years, the practice of congressional earmarking continued virtually unabated. During the 10-year period that ended in 2005, according to the Congressional Research Service, the number of earmarks skyrocketed, increasing by more than 400 percent and reaching a level of more than 16,000. This increase was particularly troubling because all too often, earmarks are an easy vehicle for special interest deal-making – inserted into congressional spending bills without filter for merit, need, priority, or any scrutiny by the public, the media, or other members of Congress.

The Administration has just completed its count of the earmarks contained in the Fiscal Year 2010 appropriations bills, the last of which the President signed into law in mid-December. Although more needs to be done, the news is encouraging: earmarks are down by double-digit percentages. In particular, earmarks declined by 17 percent in volume and 27 percent in dollar value. These reductions build on the progress that has been made on earmarks since 2006, reductions prompted by a series of reforms that then-Senator Obama helped to write – including bringing more transparency and disclosure to the process.

By any measure, the reductions we have seen this fiscal year are welcome, but we cannot rest on these laurels. Dollars must not be wasted on programs without merit or proven efficacy. That is why the Administration’s position on earmarks begins with a simple set of principles: earmarks must have a legitimate and worthy public purpose; sponsors of earmarks should be accountable for them; earmark requests should be transparent; and any earmark for a for-profit private company should be subject to the same competitive bidding requirements as other federal contracts.

As we move forward with the appropriations bills for FY 2011, we are determined to follow these principles and target wasteful, duplicative, and unnecessary spending in earmarks and throughout the federal government.

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