California Congressman Opens Up About Earmarks

Monday, June 19, 2006

Despite the bad publicity about congressional earmarks -- money set aside for certain companies -- in the convictions of former U.S. representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham and lobbyist Jack Abramoff, members have forwarded thousands of requests for special funding in next year's budget to the appropriations committees.

Breaking a tradition of keeping such wish lists secret, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, issued a statement last month of his key "funding initiatives" for the fiscal 2007 budget.

Hunter, whose committee authorizes the defense budget, bristles at criticism of the earmarking process.

"There's a little thing called the Constitution," he said. "It says Congress shall equip the military, not the Pentagon. The Pentagon proposal is just that." He challenged the "presumption that the Pentagon's bill is correct in all respects and any departure is somehow a mistake."

The thought of Congress "giving up its prerogative -- not only prerogative but responsibility -- to the non-elected doesn't make any sense," he said.

Hunter's relative openness in publicizing his earmark requests didn't inspire Washington area members who oversee government spending from seats on the appropriations committees.

Reps. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) and Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) all refused requests from The Washington Post that they make their requested earmarks public.

The requests are considered "internal documents," said a Wolf spokesman.

"It's our office policy to keep requests internal," said a Moran spokesman.

"It has been the longstanding policy of our office not to release Mr. Hoyer's earmark requests," Hoyer's spokesman said in an e-mail.

"Those aren't available," said Mikulski spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz. "They are confidential."

Of the 13 defense projects totaling $254.3 million that Hunter listed in his news release, more than $210 million of it was for programs to address roadside bombs, the chief source of casualties for U.S. troops in Iraq. Two others -- $27 million for an inexpensive missile called the "affordable weapon" and $25.7 million for a catamaran ship called Sea Fighter -- would benefit Titan Corp., a large defense contractor in southern California.

There was also $8 million for the DP-2 "vectored thrust aircraft," made by DuPont Aerospace, another southern California firm. The plane's testing was delayed because of what this year's Navy budget justification called "a nozzle box failure" in late 2004.

Hunter also requested $1.7 million to develop a skin disease test for troops in Iraq and $1 million for a wound dressing that includes pure oxygen.

He listed no funds for Project M this year.

-- Charles R. Babcock


© 2006 The Washington Post Company