Those folks over at
the Bush White House are getting downright . . .
transparent these days.
Oh, maybe not about the firings of eight U.S. attorneys
or the initial reasons for going to war with Iraq.
But last week the president's Office of Management and
Budget produced an online list of all those pet spending
projects that lawmakers like to slip into the federal
budget without a public review or a vote.
It is the first time a government office has offered
the public a comprehensive database listing earmarks in
this manner. Four clicks on this Web site and you're
looking at the $270,000 that went to the city of Santee
for the region's Natural Community Conservation Planning
program. One official at the watchdog group known as
Taxpayers for Common Sense effused that “this is a fun
We don't usually see that kind of enthusiasm around
here. At least, not about the federal budget.
The database (www.whitehouse.gov/omb)
is searchable. It's downloadable. You can trace earmarks
by state or federal agency. You can unearth details such
as the agency, bureau and account that the earmark came
from, as well as the certifying official. You get a
description of the earmark, the name of the recipient and
a citation of where the earmark can be found in
The site lists 13,496 earmarks totaling $19 billion.
Almost $1.7 billion of that money went to California under
1,182 separate earmarks – the most for any state.
MOTIVE FOR MOUSE PLAY
There is a bit of politics involved: Some say the
database is Bush's way to challenge the new
Democratic-controlled Congress on the long-cherished
earmarking practice, which allows lawmakers to bring home
money that gets the attention, and perhaps the votes, of
folks in the district.
It was the earmarking process that led to the fall of
Randy “Duke” Cunningham, the former Rancho Santa Fe
congressman now in prison for steering federal money to
defense contractors in exchange for bribes.
In his State of the Union address this year, Bush
called on the new Congress to cut the number and amount of
earmarks in half, from a record $19 billion in fiscal
“You didn't vote them into law,” he said then. “I
didn't sign them into law. Yet they are treated as if they
have the force of law.”
It should also be noted that the administration's
database doesn't include earmark requests that came from
the White House.
Southern California earmarks range from high-profile
(nearly $30 million for clearing out fire-prone brush in
the San Bernardino National Forest) to under-the-radar
(who knew they were spending $10 million for a main gate
at the North Island Naval Air Station?)
They are family-oriented: ($99,000 for the children's
collection at the National City Public Library) and more
adult-oriented ($79,999 for mental health services at the
San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community
They cover those things you might discuss at the dinner
table ($149,000 to help University City seniors stay in
their own homes) and those you probably wouldn't ($962,000
to improve the Solana Beach sewer system.)
They have your education in mind: nearly $400,000 to
create a nursing program at California State University;
and $98,000 for science equipment for Grossmont-Cuyamaca
Boy, and then there's all that dough for defense
contractors: Lockheed Martin (nearly $1 million to develop
algorithms that locate marine mammals to get the creatures
away from Navy sonar systems); Swath Ocean Systems LLC
($4.8 million for a new vessel called the Aft Tramp Range
Retriever Craft); and SAIC (nearly $5 million for the
“Joint Readiness Training Center Instrumentation System,”
or JRTCIS for you acronym types).
And if you know any defense contractors wearing a
smile, ask if they work for Qualcomm, which got a tidy $20
million to provide secure wireless cell phones for the
Dana Wilkie is a
Washington-based correspondent for Copley News Service and
a longtime observer of California politics and social