Earmarks and Transparency

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A November 2006 Top Drawer Ink article (Got Pork?“) featured the Federal Funding Accountability and TransparencyAct. Since the Act’s purpose was to bring earmarks to light and add clarity to government spending, we ended our article with the thought that perhaps over time more oversight would mean less oink.

So, a little over four years later, it’s time to ask whether transparency helped stifle the sound of oink in Washington. The answer seems to be yes—with reservations.

Here’s why.

Before the act, one analysis of fiscal year 2005 found more than 15,000 earmarks totaling over $30 billion. Few of those earmarks were being made public.

By 2010, the number of earmarks had swelled to over 39,000, with a price tag of at least $100 billion. Because a lot of unnecessary spending was being reported thanks to the Act, there was more accountability.

For instance, increased oversight made concerned citizen watchdog groups aware of government buildings that, though empty, were being funded to the tune of millions of dollars a year. Now some of those buildings are rented out.

The new transparency is also saving millions through a crackdown on bogus Medicare claims. In addition, frivolous spending benefitting only a few, such as funding a museum in Las Vegas to display the “historic” neon signs of gambling casinos, is being curbed.

So why the reservations about the usefulness of the Act? While disclosed spending means a reduction in pork, not all earmarks are reported. Those unreported earmarks still add up to a lot of oink— which indicates more work remains to be done.

If you’re interested in finding out how your tax dollars are being spent, take a look at the Office of Management and Budget’s searchable website. You’ll find data from contracts, grants, loans, and other documents that relate to federal spending.

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