$100,000 earmark is 2,700 miles off target
When he earmarked $100,000 in taxpayer spending to go to Jamestown’s library, Rep. James E. Clyburn meant for it to go to the library in Jamestown, S.C., which is in his district.
But in the bustle to write and pass the $1.1 trillion catchall spending bill, Congress ended up designating the money for Jamestown, Calif. — 2,700 miles away and a town that doesn’t even have a library.
“That figures for government, doesn’t it,” said Chris Pipkin, who runs the one-room library in Jamestown, S.C., and earlier this year requested $50,000, not the $100,000 that Congress designated, to buy new computers and build shelves to hold the books strewn across the room.
The library is just one of more than 5,000 “earmarks,” or porkbarrel spending projects, totaling $3.9 billion, tucked inside the report accompanying the catchall spending bill Congress sent to President Obama last week. Mr. Obama signed the $1.1 trillion bill on Dec. 16, violating his own pledge to allow the public five days to comment on bills before he signs them.
The bill, which funds most domestic federal agencies for fiscal 2010, includes projects such as $200,000 to study elderly Irish immigrants in New York, $1 million to add plumbing to houses in Maryland and $487,000 to build office space so Winston-Salem, N.C., can try to attract businesses to a blighted area.
The most expensive items are military construction projects, and among the biggest is $26.4 million to build a fitness center at a Mayport Naval Station in Florida, requested by Rep. Ander Crenshaw, Florida Republican.
With no indoor pool at Mayport, search-and-rescue divers have trouble doing year-round training, and the weather in Florida is so hot that it’s considered dangerous to exercise outdoors during most of the summer and much of the spring and fall, Mr. Crenshaw’s office said.
Members of Congress are required to submit letters justifying each request, and rules that Democrats imposed this year also require them to publish those requests so the public can view them.
One of the more colorful justifications was from Rep. Adam H. Putnam, Florida Republican, who asked for $810,000 to fund a pilot program for school safety in Polk County. Mr. Putnam used psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to argue that safety is among the most fundamental of human needs, topped only by food, water and shelter.
“Educators and school administrators alike know that students who do not feel safe in school have difficulty concentrating in class and retaining what is taught and that positive student engagement in the classroom is a key factor in promoting student achievement,” Mr. Putnam wrote.
The program was awarded $150,000.
In his letter justifying the library project, Mr. Clyburn, a Democrat and Majority Whip, says clearly that the money is designated for Jamestown, S.C., so the error must have happened somewhere in the appropriations process.
Congressional staffers said typos happen and the library mix-up probably can be fixed by Congress letting the administration know the intent of the money.
But critics of earmark spending said the episode shows that the system is broken.
“It’s still an awful lot of money for a small library,” said Thomas A Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste. “It’s kind of typical. We’ve had our ‘discussions’ with Congressman Clyburn. It’s not a big surprise he would just double this without anyone even asking.”
Mr. Clyburn’s office said he decided to double the library’s request after visiting the library and finding it overcrowded with books on the floor.
“When he had gone down to look into the project, he determined more funding was re- quired to meet the needs of this underserved community,” said spokeswoman Kristie Greco.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat, teamed up to ask for $100,000 to build bus shelters in the wealthy community of Bal Harbour, Fla., but Congress more than doubled that amount to $250,000.
With spending ballooning, some lawmakers have called on Mr. Obama to crack down on earmarks by vetoing spending bills.
Earlier this year, when he signed the bills to fund the government for 2009, Mr. Obama said he was not happy about the number of earmarks but that he would sign the bill because it was leftover business from the Bush administration.
On Dec. 16, though, the president signed the $1.1 trillion 2010 omnibus spending bill into law without issuing any comment.
Still to land on his desk is the 2010 defense spending bill, which passed the House this week and is expected to clear the Senate over the weekend.
It includes more than 1,700 additional earmarks costing $4.2 billion.
Meanwhile, in the domestic agencies bill, one of the more striking earmarks is $200,000 to be spent on studying elderly Irish immigrants in Queens, N.Y. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, requested $500,000 to go to the Gallagher Outreach Program Inc. His office said the pro- gram is new and not yet registered as a federally recognized nonprofit, so it will operate for now under the Fund for the Advancement of Social Services, which is recognized.
After the death of 72-year-old Anthony Gallagher last year in his Queens home went undiscovered for days, Irish community leaders said they wanted to take an inventory of Irish immigrants to try to aid outreach efforts.
Elderly Irish immigrants aren’t the only category of folks getting special help. The bill has $155,000 — $1,000 more than Rep. Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin Democrat, requested — for Diverse and Resilient Inc. The group runs a program “to improve the response to intimate partner violence” between members of lesbian or gay couples.
Few things are left beyond the reach of taxpayers’ beneficence.
The Rhode Island School of Design, where the cost of tuition, books, room and meals is about $50,000 per student per year, is getting $150,000, along with the equally expensive Brown University, to help advise businesses on how to design and market environmentally sensitive “green” products.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s hometown of Wasilla is getting $500,000 to expand airplane parking space at the airport.
During last year’s campaign, Mrs. Palin, the Republican vicepresidential candidate, claimed credit for refusing money for the “Bridge to Nowhere,” possibly the most famous earmark of all time.
The Wasilla airport money came at the request of Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican. Attempts to reach Mrs. Palin for her thoughts on the project were unsuccessful.
The bill spends slightly less than $5 million to fund six separate studies of how climate change will affect different places, from the Chesapeake Bay to the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
That doesn’t include the $180,000 that Rep. Michael M. Honda, California Democrat, secured for San Jose State University to add a field experience class to the school’s meteorology program. According to the congressman’s request, “these students, who will in the future be weather forecasters not only in California but across the nation, can be expected to encounter changing climate and weather, as well as more extremes of weather as global climate change continues.”
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Democrat who died in August, left his mark on the bill, with his name attached to at least 86 earmarks, for a total of $87.3 million.
His fellow lawmakers from Massachusetts did not forget his legacy. They earmarked $13.6 million of education funds for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the Senate in Boston.
House Democratic Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina tried to earmark $100,000 for a librar y in Jamestown, S.C., but the money was misdirected to Jamestown, Calif.