The Defense Budget and Congressional Earmarks


With 2,966 examples costing about $11.1 billion, [2] the pork in the 2006 Department of Defense Appropriations Bill, now law, is not hard to find. There are examples in almost every "title" of the bill, including parts most would probably hope to be pork-free. 

For example, the Military Personnel Title, which funds military pay and benefits, is burdened with $1.6 million for "Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Activities" to pay for members of Congress to invite "up to 10 students from each state and territory" to participate in a "Youth Rendezvous" in some lucky congressional district.3]

Nor do past embarrassments seem to have slowed the process. Last year, a classified project associated with the Duke Cunningham scandal received a $3 million earmark. This year, the same activity saw its funding tripled to $9 million. Found and identified by Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) under the heading "Classified Programs ­ C3I," a project labeled "Foreign Supply Assessment Center" is "earmarked" to receive the money in the R&D/Navy Title of the 2006 DOD Appropriations [4] TCS further reports that Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Va., was the prime mover of this "add-on."

Such examples of "pork" can be found in both the text of the legislation enacted into law by Congress and President George W. Bush, now enshrined as Public Law 109-148, and in something called the "Joint Explanatory Statement" (JES) that accompanies the text of the bill as it moves through its final stages of congressional approval. (Both the text of the bill in final form and the JES constitute what is called a "conference report" on Capitol Hill.) 

The JES is especially important. Its ostensible purpose is to provide guidance to the executive branch, and the public, on Congress’ intent and rationale for the various provisions in the legislation. And, indeed, there is often some material that is explanatory. However, most of the document simply lists pork projects.

Anyone can perform a simple exercise to find the pork, which appears most prominently in the R&D section (Title IV) of the legislation; R&D is virtually always the most pork-laden part of defense bills. Just turn to any page. 

For example, for 2006, the text of the JES for R&D is 116 pages. A random page flip will usually lead the peruser to one of many tables. They go on for page, after page, after page. A table will show the name of the program requested by the president and the dollar amount he sought (under the title "Budget Request"). The table will also show what the House recommended, what the Senate recommended, and ­ most importantly ­ what the House-Senate "conferees," appointed by their respective bodies to resolve differences, recommended. In the R&D title, and to lesser extents in the Procurement and Operation and Maintenance titles, the table will list many programs and dollar amounts not requested by the president. These are either to be wedged into a larger program sought by the president, or they are wholly new programs added under their own new category. In the R&D title, there will usually be more of these "line items" [5] added by the conferees than the number of programs sought by the president.

To conduct the suggested exercise of a random page flip to find pork in the R&D title of the legislation, click here for a link to the conference report and "go to" any page between 335 and 451.

The Joint Explanatory Statement provides little explanation of these items. Rarely is there any written text to explain them; they are typically just a program title. For example, one can find on page 315 "Crystal Materials for Electro-Optical Imaging and Communication: 1,300" (meaning $1.3 million for that purpose).<>[6] A little illumination can be deduced from where in the JES the "add-on" is placed; in this case "Night Vision Technology" in the broader category of R&D for the Army. No where is it stated what this really is, nor whether it is a one year or multi-year program (with "out-year" costs), the location of the contractor for it (and its track record of performance), what member of Congress added it, or what anybody in DOD or elsewhere thinks about it. It is quite literally "a pig in a poke." 

A few other isolated examples:

In addition to the $1.6 million add-on for the Lewis and Clark rendezvous, some member added $4.7 million for "932nd Airlift Wing Personnel" in the Military Personnel Title (page 197).

In the O&M title, someone added $900,000 for "Memorial Day" (page 209) and $4 million for "Fleece Insulated Liners for ECWCS" (page 208).

The Procurement title contains $1.7 million for "Vacuum Pack Joint Single Place Life Raft" (page 249) for the Army (not the Navy) and "Scathe View Communications Upgrade Program" for C-130J aircraft in the Air Force for $3.5 million (page 312).

Title VI, which is primarily for the Defense Health Program, contains many earmarks, including for "Alaska Federal Health Care Network" ($2.2 million) and Pacific Island Health Care Referral" ($3.6 million), "Brown Tree Snakes" ($1.7 million) all on page 454, and breast, ovarian, and prostate cancer research (totaling $217 million) on page 455.
Section 8098 of the actual bill in the General Provisions Title (see page 42) adds $3.85 million for the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Foundation (a museum) in New York, $4.4 million for a "Center for Applied Science and Technologies at Jordan Valley Innovation Center," $500,000 for the "Westchester County World Trade Center Memorial," $850,000 for the Des Moines Memorial Park and Education Center," $1.5 million for the "Battleship Texas Foundation" (another museum) and more money for several other projects.

And so it goes for 2,966 items.

However, you won’t find them all in the final conference report for the legislation. The Joint Explanatory Statement instructs the Defense Department that any item listed in other reports from the House and Senate Appropriations Committees for their defense, military construction, veterans’ affairs, and military "quality of life" appropriations bills "should be complied with unless specifically addressed in the conference report to the contrary." [7]

DOD Locked In

DOD is not permitted discretion in implementing the add-ons. For "congressional interest items," DOD is specifically instructed that the amounts specified by Congress in the conference report, and its other reports, must be spent unless DOD specifically asks the appropriations committees for permission to change the amount in a "reprogramming" and the permission is granted. [8] Such permission is rarely sought.

A Growth Industry

Congress has been increasing its defense pork. For the 2002 Defense Appropriations Act, which became law just four months after Sept. 11, 2001, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) counted $7.2 billion in "earmarks." This was $1.1 billion more than the $6.1 billion in DOD earmarks CRS found in the 2000 legislation, and was almost $3 billion more than the $4.4 billion CRS found in the 1998 bills. Since Sept. 11, the pork bill has been going up as well: CRS found $8.5 billion in 2004.<>[9] In 2006, Tax Payers for Common Sense counted $11.1 billion.[10]

Over the years, Congress and its staff have become even more preoccupied with adding pork to defense bills, since it is essential to their political success. Some argue that this spending is good both for congressional districts and the national defense. While the latter claim may occur to the reader as spurious nonsense, there are cases where the claim can be convincing. That raises the question, "What is pork?" That will be the subject of the next "Defense Budget Tutorial."

Winslow T. Wheeler is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information. He spent 31 years working for US Senators from both parties and the Government Accountability Office. He contributed an essay on the defense budget to CounterPunch’s new book: Dime’s Worth of Difference. Wheeler’s new book, "The Wastrels of Defense: How Congress Sabotages U.S. Security," is published by the Naval Institute Press.


[1] Subsequent Pork Tutorials will address "What Is Pork" and "How to Get Rid of Pork."

[2] These data are from "Taxpayers for Common Sense" which will soon release a study on the "pork" in the 2006 DOD appropriations bill.

[3] See Conference Report for H.R. 2863, "Conference Report, House Document 109-359, p. 446.

[5] Many euphemistic names are used on Capitol Hill in lieu of "pork:" "line items," "earmarks," "member-" or "state-" or "district-" or "congressional-interest items."

[6] Arbitrarily selected from the conference report for HR 2863, House Document 109-359.

[7] IBID., p. 173.

[8] IBID., p. 245.

[9] "Earmarks in Appropriations Acts: FY1994, FY1996, FY1998, FY2000, FY 2002, FY2004," CRS Appropriations Team, Congressional Research Service, March 17, 2004, p. 11.

[10] CRS data for 2006 is not yet available. In the 1970s, the author counted only several hundred million in defense pork add-ons per year.



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