Members of Congress regularly insert specific requests for special projects into appropriations bills. These “earmarks” requests often benefit particular corporations, organizations and individuals, so it’s reasonable for citizens to expect information about who tries to insert earmarks, who they benefit and when they do it. But before the 110th Congress, Americans had to rely on scraps of anecdotal reports to figure out how their money flowed out of Washington and into the wallets of interested parties. Fortunately, starting with the 110th Congress and continuing into the 111th Congress, there are some databases that, clunkily and patchily, provide we little people with a glimpse into the sausage-making of appropriations.
The federal government’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) maintains an earmarks database with an touchy search engine. Search for “hoyer” and you won’t find anything; try again and “boom!” you’ll get two results (why? who knows)… with a small link asking you to click on it again to see all 76 of Steny Hoyer‘s earmark requests in 2008. Individual OMB-recorded earmarks, like Hoyer’s request of $2 million for “Age Exploration Model Enhancement & Vibration Analysis”, have permalinks, which is nice. The disclosure page specifically mentions the appropriations report (in this case, H.Rept. 110-434), the page (299) and the line (183) on which the earmark is specifically referenced. That’s good too…
…as far as it goes. The problem is that I’ve been downloading the huge H.Rept. 110-434 report for
25 35 40 minutes just to figure out what this single earmark is. In the meantime, I’m stuck: do you know what an “Age Exploration Model Enhancement & Vibration Analysis” is? Me neither. It sounds like research presented at a sex toy convention. H.Rept. 110-434 won’t help me much in this regard, with language inserted by Rep. Hoyer (with Senator Barbara Mikulski) that is meant to obfuscate matters, not clarify. It’s not just the vague title that makes me hot under the collar; it’s that a year later I’m still waiting for OMB to tell me who gets this $2 million grant! That’s right: according to the OMB, the beneficiary of this earmark is “not yet available.” The report was last updated September 4, 2008, seven months ago. When will the beneficiary information become available in the OMB database? When it is no longer of contemporary relevance?
Ah! Finally H.Rept. 110-434 is downloaded, and what does it provide? The name “Age Exploration Model Enhancement & Vibration Analysis,” plus the fact that it’s under the heading of “Aviation.” That’s it. Is this something having to do with the Mile High Club?
To get more information, I’ve turned to Legistorm’s earmark database, a nifty online presentation of a fleshed-out folio of earmark information put together by Taxpayers for Common Sense. Legistorm’s entry on the same earmark fails to tell me in precisely what legislative document I can find the relevant information, although it does contain qualitative markers telling me it has to do with Navy “Research, Development, Testing and Evaluation.” All right then… it’s a military research earmark then, not anything having to do with the O spot among post-menopausal women, not unless that information would be of some military significance. More importantly, Legistorm and the Taxpayers for Common Sense have nailed down the beneficiary of this earmark: ManTech Systems Engineered Corp, an corporation to which Steny Hoyer has previously been tied.
Cobbling together information provided by both databases, I’m ready to dig in and find more information about the money relationship between Hoyer and Mantech. Neither of the databases is perfect, but they are far, far better than nothing.