What is Happening:
Earmarks are appropriations inserted into legislation by individual members of Congress while the bill for that legislation was in subcommittee, committee, or conference committee. They are not subject to debate, nor due they undergo any independent review. The Department of Defense budget is a favorite vehicle for earmarks because of its size; the Department of Defense Appropriations Bill is the single largest spending measure that Congress passes each year.
According to the Congressional Research Service, Memorandum, “Earmarks in FY2006 Appropriations Act,” March 6, 2006, p. 11 between 1994 and 2006 the number of earmarks attached to the defense budget increased from 587 to 2,847. Their cost increased from $4.2 billion to $9.4 billion. That is a 223.08% increase over the course of 12 years! Accurate figures for the latest round of appropriations is not available but Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK)– a vocal opponent of earmarking is quoted as saying “the appetite is undiminished.”
The Pentagon does not request these appropriations; the appropriations are inserted into the DoD budget by individual members of congress often without any regard at all as to whether or not the appropriations have anything to do with Defense. The defense appropriations panels typically have to offset the costs of these earmarks with cuts to their original budget request; they generally justify these cuts by pointing to updated economic assumptions or analyses of Pentagon cost estimates by the Government Accountability Office (GAO)or other agencies. When queried on this practice the DoD is somewhere between reticent and deferential.
We’re obviously not going to pick a fight with Congress.
The process is what it is.
— DoD Spokesperson
What it’s Costing the US:
What are these earmarks added to the Department of Defense Appropriations Bill costing the United states? The earmarking of defense dollars dilutes the effectiveness and efficiency of defense spending. Instead of funding programs based on their necessity for national security, many legislators are focused on protecting their local constituents’ military industrial base. Earmarking also, because it is subject to neither debate nor review reduces transparency in the appropriations process which makes sound economic policy as well a public scrutiny near impossible.
“[Earmarks have]…gotten completely out of hand. This is the time that we need to put the Army in full readiness, and we cannot even afford to do that.”
— John Shalikashvili
Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
In fiscal year 2005 legislators heavily prioritized local concerns defense spending bill, resulting in a $2.8 billion cut in funds for operations and maintenance and other readiness accounts that contribute to the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan. The military’s ability to fight effectively is largely dependent on adequate funding in these accounts. In all, Congress cut $8.2 billion out of the entire bill to help make room for projects requested by individual lawmakers.