Crush of earmarks in defense bill gives yet another lesson in horse-trading

Network News

X Profile
View More Activity
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Journalists talk about congressional earmarks in terms of lobbyists' shenanigans, or legislators helping themselves and their pals.

But pause for a moment and consider that there are 97 pages listing nearly 1,000 congressional earmarks in the 543-page report by the House-Senate conferees on the $626 billion defense appropriations bill signed by President Obama this month.

They cover every category from procurement to operations and maintenance to research and development, with the last group alone spanning more than 77 of those pages. Who is to say what kind of impact these separate transfers of what may be $5 billion will have on our defense posture -- and on our intelligence operations, since that money is also in the bill?

Tracking several earmarks for special operations and for research and development shows that many may be jobs programs for districts and states.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer and Rep. Michael A. Arcuri, both New York Democrats, got $2.4 million earmarked in the final bill to upgrade 3,000 M-24 sniper rifles. Although a contract will be up for bidding, the two legislators issued a news release on Dec. 17 saying they expect that Remington Arms, the original manufacturer, would be successful and that all work would be done at the company's Ilion, N.Y., factory.

Arcuri even included in his release a quote from the plant manager, James Rabbia, who said, "On behalf of our 905 employees in Ilion and our New York suppliers, we are grateful for the efforts of Congressman Arcuri and Senator Schumer to secure funding to upgrade the Army's M24 sniper weapon system."

The bolt-action rifle, which first came into service in 1988, fell out of use when semi-automatics became popular. But it returned for specialized use by the military in Iraq and now in Afghanistan.

In a statement released the day the appropriations bill passed Congress, Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.) heralded his earmark for $1.5 million to continue development work on a non-gasoline-burning outboard engine for the Navy Special Operation Forces' underwater systems. He said it would also provide a financial boost to the Naval Surface Warfare Center, located in Panama City in his district. "The Navy base will use this funding to assist Special Operations in developing a non-gasoline engine," he said.

What's interesting about this earmark is that the U.S. Special Operations Command began its search for such an engine in 1995 and halted funding for research on it in 2008. Just last month, the Marine Corps awarded a $10 million contract to Bombardier Recreational Products for production of its Evinrude multifuel engine (a non-gasoline-burning outboard engine), which will be used on its fleet of combat rubber raiding craft, or inflatable boats.

The sixth highest-ranking member of the defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, Boyd was not shy about telling his constituents of his other earmarks in the Pentagon spending bill.

When the bill passed the committee, he said, he obtained $18 million worth of projects for the Panama City Navy base and Tyndall Air Force Base, another facility in Boyd's district that is facing a reduction in operational activity. When the bill passed the House in October, Boyd claimed $17 million for the Navy and Air Force facilities.

Boyd, a leading member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats, said at the time, "Both Tyndall and the Navy base serve as critical hubs for developing next-generation technologies that strengthen our military."

Boyd's experience illustrates the horse-trading that goes on in the earmarking process. Another Boyd earmark for the Panama City Navy base in the House-passed bill included $3 million for developing and manufacturing a Common Air Mine Countermeasures tow cable, which would be hooked to a helicopter or vessel and linked to sonar equipment searching out submarines underwater. When the conferees were finished, it was a $2.4 million earmark.

More important for Boyd was language he inserted in the House-Senate conference report. It marked a last attempt to prevent the Air Force from moving the training of F-15 pilots, mostly for the Air National Guard, from Tyndall to Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, Ore. Among the things the Air Force secretary is now required to do is a cost-benefit analysis of the proposed move. It should, according to Boyd's language, include "the differing training environments and climatology at each base."


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity