McCaskill-led earmark probe finds $834 million in requests

December 11, 2011

A six-month study of this year’s defense authorization bill has identified 115 spending proposals as earmarks worth $834 million, including 20 by Republican freshmen who campaigned against the pet projects, according to a copy of the report provided to The Washington Post.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), whose staff produced the study, called the behavior a “bold flaunting” of the GOP-led moratorium on earmarks. She chastised Republican House members for removing documents about earmarks from their Web sites that would have made it easier to identify the practice.

“It was perplexing that so many Republicans had scrubbed their Web sites,” said McCaskill, who on Friday gave copies of the report to the chairman and ranking member of the Armed Services Committee. “If you are going to tout the earmarks you received, why not remain transparent? For me, the entire thing is disappointing. ”

In the analysis, McCaskill’s staff said it found 40 earmark requests from House Republicans and 75 from House Democrats, the report shows. The requests, which target spending to specific projects in a member’s district, were passed over the summer, largely en masse, without public debate.

The report found that 31 other items appeared to be earmarks, but the lack of documentation made it impossible to connect them to specific lawmakers.

On Monday, McCaskill will distribute copies of the 15-page report to the full Armed Services Committee, along with a spreadsheet that names each member who requested the funding.

House and Senate members of the defense authorization committees were scheduled to work over the weekend to produce a final bill, which may be completed as soon as Monday.

McCaskill said Friday that she is asking that the conference committee strip out all of the earmarks, which were called “amendments” in the bill. If any remain, she will fight them on the floor of the Senate.

Last week, McCaskill and Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) introduced a bill that would make earmarks illegal. She said her staff’s findings underscore the need for the legislation.

An earlier analysis of the defense authorization bill by Citizens Against Government Waste, an earmark watchdog group, found similar results. The organization identified 111 spending provisions it described as earmarks, 59 of which matched up with the language members used for earlier earmarks.

McCaskill said some of the most brazen behavior came from freshmen who, just months before they sought funding for their pet projects, had been on the campaign trail denouncing them.

The report highlights a request from Rep. Robert T. Schilling (R-Ill.), one of the 13 freshmen who sought earmarks, McCaskill said.

The report says Schilling added a $2.5 million earmark for Quad City Manufacturing Lab at the Rock Island Arsenal in Rock Island, Ill., for the “development of innovative manufacturing techniques and process for munitions and weapons systems.”

Schilling’s request matched the language in an earmark to the federal research facility by his predecessor, former representative Phil Hare (D), the report said.

Andie Pivarunas, a spokeswoman for Schilling, said the request is not an earmark because the funds will be awarded by the Army through a competitive process. She said the funding request was made by Schilling in response to a “policy recommendation” from the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, which asked for federal funds for the laboratory. She said that if the funds are allocated and the lab applies for funds, Schilling would “hope the lab would receive fair consideration under the program application guidelines.”

When Schilling was campaigning against Hare, he wrote an Oct. 17, 2010, op-ed piece for a local online news site that said: “We need earmark reform that improves transparency, roots out corruption and eliminates wasteful spending. My opponent never met an earmark he didn’t like.”

Word seeped out months ago that Republican leaders on the Armed Services Committee would try to find a way to keep earmarks alive.

At a March 16 event sponsored by the Brookings Institution, Maj. Gen. Lori Robinson, legislative liaison for the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, said she had heard that earmarks were not dead, according to a Pentagon newsletter called Inside the Air Force.

“I haven’t seen anything in writing and I don’t know anything official but I am hearing that it’ll be called something different,” she was quoted as saying in the May 27 newsletter. “And I forget what the word is, but I do believe that we will have an earmark by a different name.”

Robinson and the Air Force press office declined to comment.

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Kimberly Kindy is a government accountability reporter at The Washington Post.
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