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Prospectus Blog Inspector General: Transportation Earmarks Hit New Record High

A report by U.S. Department of Transportations’s Inspector General titled “Review of Congressional Earmarks Within Department of Transportation Programs” has determined that the Fiscal Year 2006 surface transportation appropriation contained 7,808 earmarks with a total amount of $8.08 billion or over 15 percent of highway appropriations and 28 percent of transit appropriations.
This compares with 2,094 earmarks in FY 2005 ($3.27 billion), 2,282 earmarks in FY 2004 ($3.36 billion) and 1,493 earmarks in FY 202 ($3.22 billion). During the 10-year period from FY 1996 to FY 2005, the number of earmarks within the U.S. DOT appropriations increased by more than 1,150 percent.
The common definition of earmarks is that they are Congressional pork projects directed to a specific district for political gain. The Office of Management and Budget defines earmarks this way:

…funds provided by the Congress for projects or programs where the congressional direction (in bill or report language) circumvents Executive Branch merit-based or competitive allocation processes, or specifies the location or recipient, or otherwise curtails the ability of the Executive Branch to manage critical aspects of the funds allocation process.

The Inspector General’s report includes these findings (pp. 11-13):

  • earmarks can reduce funding for the states’ core transportation programs;
  • many low priority, earmarked projects are being funded over higher priority non-earmarked projects;
  • earmarks provide funds for projects that would not otherwise be eligible;
  • earmarks can disrupt the agency’s ability to fund programs as designated when authorized funding amounts are exceeded by overearmarking.
  • The IG report is the first authoritative review of congressional earmarks within DOT programs. It should be required reading for any one concerned about the future of transportation financing.
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