Aug. 20, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

McCaskill Restarts the Debate on Earmarks

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Claire McCaskill sent a letter to House Armed Services Committee leaders last week questioning amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act.

"In the words of the former Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), we would encourage the good Senator from the former chairman's home state to 'read the bill,'" Holly said in a statement. "All of the information which she claims was not provided to the public has been available on the committee's website throughout the process."

Smith also said he viewed the process as in line with the Republican earmark ban.

"The people who are looking for earmarks the way they were looking for witches in Salem, I can't offer much of an opinion about," the Washington state lawmaker said. "I mean, the thing is you can't answer that question because ask 10 people and they have 10 different definitions of what an earmark is."

Still, open government and anti-earmark groups have also called the process problematic because McKeon created a separate fund the Mission Force Enhancement Transfer Fund by taking money from other programs within the bill instead of using it to pay down the country's debt and because the measures were adopted with dozens of amendments bundled together instead of conducting separate votes for each one.

Open government advocate Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation said these are de facto earmarks because Members of Congress are directing money where often only one contractor can compete or where a current contractor has a leg up in any competitive process.

Taxpayers for Common Sense wrote in an email Friday that "it looks like we have a lot further to go down the road to meritorious spending nirvana than we hoped for."

In particular, McCaskill in her letter pointed to an amendment by Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) to put $7 million toward "innovative nanomaterials and nonmanufacturing processes."

McCaskill alleges in her letter that the money is being directed with the expectation that it will go to a university, which also was quoted in the lawmaker's press release about the funding, in Gibson's district. However, SUNY Albany College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering is not in Gibson's district and instead resides in an adjacent district, according to his spokeswoman, Stephanie Valle.

She said that "certainly the Congressman believes their application would be competitive, but it's not up for us to determine."

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