During last week’s debate on the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill, McKeon said flatly, and more than once: “There are no earmarks in this bill.”
But what about the dozens of en bloc amendments approved during the committee markup May 11 that reserved funds contained in a $1 billion, committee-created Mission Force Enhancement Transfer Fund (MFET)?
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a strong earmark opponent, said during debate on the House floor that it was his understanding “that during the full committee markup more than $650 million of that money was moved out of this [MFET] fund by members of the committee seeking to increase funding for their own priorities in the bill. . . . Members with a pot of money from which they can transfer money to fund their own projects, this would be similar to the earmarking culture.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), another active earmark opponent, was more direct. In a letter last week to McKeon and Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the committee’s ranking Democrat, McCaskill described the panel’s MFET as “a slush fund created by making cuts, virtually all unexplained and unjustified, to programs requested by the Department of Defense” and instead to be used for “pet projects pursued in earmark amendments.”
McKeon defended the fund, saying it was established so that “members of the committee that have the expertise move the funding around to more important items. . . .We do not feel bound by the president’s request that we will just be a rubber-stamp committee to just do what he expects us to do.”
What the committee did, according to McCaskill, was to collect members requests for increases in defense spending, vet them and decide which would be packaged together and introduced at the full committee markup. Then, as each subcommittee section was taken up, these agreed-upon amendments were passed en bloc with “no discussion, debate or justification,” McCaskill said.
She also wrote McKeon that it had been reported that “members of your committee have been assured that they will be able to direct the funds provided for in their amendments to their desired recipients using informal contacts” at the Pentagon or leverage of the committee.
On the House floor, McKeon noted that money from the MFET fund would be awarded only “on merit-based selection procedures in accordance with the requirements of [applicable sections of the U.S. Code] or competitive procedures [that] comply with other applicable provisions of law.” Each amendment also requires it be done “in furthering national security objectives.”
“If we find any member pressuring the Department of Defense to use any funds other than to comply with competitive, merit-based solutions,” McKeon added, “we will go after them.”
Flake’s answer to that, during their debate, was that members “take a victory lap” when they get earmarks in a bill by issuing press releases. He said a member, whom he didn’t name, had already put out such a release, saying he had gotten funding for Technology Ventures Corp., a nonprofit charitable foundation “in New Mexico’s emerging satellite industry.”