Members of Congress may no longer be able to direct federal money to projects back home because of a moratorium on legislative earmarks, but that has not stopped them from trying.
A coalition of budget watchdog groups says that in the absence of the age-old practice of Congressional earmarks, the legislative tools that let members attach pet projects to bills, lawmakers appear to have found a backdoor method: special funds in spending and authorization bills that allow them to direct money to projects in their states.
The latest example, the groups say, is the recently passed budget for the Army Corps of Engineers. Budget documents show that Congress included 26 different funds — totaling $507 million — for the corps to spend on various construction, maintenance and other projects that were not included in President Obama’s budget or the final spending bill.
The funds were financed by reducing money for projects included in the president’s budget request and adding $375 million to the corps budget, documents show.
Congress also gave the corps criteria to use in selecting projects and instructed it to report within 45 days about how it intends to spend the money from the funds, according to the budget documents. On Monday, the corps will release the list of projects it plans to finance.
The watchdog groups — which include the conservative National Taxpayers Union and Americans for Tax Reform, led by the antitax activist Grover Norquist — note that the 26 new corps funds add up to nearly the same amount as the earmarks in the 2010 budget. The funds are listed in the House and Senate joint report that accompanies the spending bill, but they are not in the text of the bill, one of the ways Congress used to add earmarks.