Pork and Earmarks: Clarification

In Sunday's post on the grudging release of state data, I compared that release to the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (FFATA), which I thought was about earmarks. A reader wrote to ask for clarification, and it turns out I was wrong: the FFATA is only one part of the earmark puzzle.

The FFATA requires that every recipient of government funding be identified, and the source of funding and location of the recipient be stored in a publicly-accessible database. But the FFATA does not mandate recording whether the funds were the result of an earmark. I confused FFATA with H.R. 1000, a recently-passed earmark reform bill which, like the FFATA, Randy Kuhl cosponsored.

HR 1000 is a significant reform with some loopholes. Though it requires that the names of earmark sponsors be embedded in legislation, it was enacted in September and only required disclosure on a go-forward basis. Since most appropriation bills had passed by then, HR 1000 was a minor reform for the 109th Congress.

There are a few other loopholes in the legislation, as detailed in a summary [pdf] by the excellent OMB Watch website. Here's a big one: the earmark sponsor must only be revealed if the earmark's target is a private entity. If the earmark directs that money be spent by a federal agency, even for a single beneficiary, disclosure isn't required. So, for example, if the earmark directs the forest service to build a bridge to someone's house, it won't be disclosed. If the earmark gives some individual money to build a bridge, then it must be disclosed.

HR 1000 expired at the end of this congressional session, so it is up to the Democratic leadership to resurrect it for the 110th Congress. If it is re-authorized, and if some of the loopholes are closed, then I'll believe that the Democrats are serious about reform. If not, say hello to the new boss, just the same as the old boss.