CAO Orders Change to GOP Earmark Web Site

Posted February 21, 2008 at 4:37pm

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) is protesting a decision by Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard to shut down a Web site designed to bring attention to the effort to enact earmark reform.

Boehner launched the Web site, earmarkreform.house.gov, on Feb. 12. The site features news links to articles about earmark reform, along with press releases from Republican leaders calling for reform and a link to Boehner’s leadership Web site.

The CAO’s office had given Boehner permission to use the domain name in August 2007. But Beard sent Boehner an e-mail message on Feb. 21 informing the Minority Leader that the Web site needed to be shut down and moved to a different location with a different domain name.

Boehner sent Beard a letter protesting that decision on Thursday afternoon, asking for “a detailed explanation of the events that led your office to make this dramatic reversal.”

“Changing its address now will inevitably hamper the effectiveness of the new website, much to the convenience of the majority that runs the House,” Boehner writes.

A Beard spokesman confirmed that the CAO’s House Information Resources office did authorize the Web site domain name. But it has since been discovered that the domain name is not in compliance with a House Administration Committee regulation passed in 1999, according to spokesman Jeff Ventura.

House Administration regulations state that house.gov domains must “be recognizably derivative or representative of the name of the Member of the name of the office sponsoring the website.” The name of an official House.gov Web site also must not be a slogan or imply in any way that the House endorses a specific commercial product, commodity or service, the regulations state.

“It was determined the website in question was not compliant with the aforementioned rule and Mr. Boehner was asked to transition the content to another URL,” Ventura wrote in an e-mail. “The CAO is now initiating a review of all House URL’s to ensure compliance with traditional formatting.”

CAO officials also are working with Boehner’s office to “make the transition as seamless as possible,” Ventura wrote.

In his letter, Boehner notes that the decision comes after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declined to support a Boehner-initiated call for a moratorium on all earmarks. It also comes after reports that out of the $263 million spent by House freshmen on earmarks, $237 million of that was spent by Democratic freshmen, Boehner writes.

“The leaders of both parties in the House have discussed the need for greater transparency and ‘sunshine’ in Congress, particularly with respect to the process by which our institution spends taxpayers’ hard-earned money,” Boehner writes. “By serving as a public clearinghouse for real-time information on legislative efforts to reform the earmark practice in Congress, www.earmarkreform.gov contributes to this goal and helps to increase accountability in use of taxpayer funds. Transferring the website to a different address now — nearly two weeks after its successful launch — will inevitably cause confusion.”

Democrats have noted over the past several weeks that they actually have enacted dramatic changes to improve the earmark process since taking control of Congress last year.

In a letter sent to Boehner on Feb. 6, Pelosi wrote that the Democratic-led Congress has instituted several new policies subjecting earmarks to public disclosure and transparency rules, “cutting the total amount of earmarks nearly in half in just one year.”

“Democrats will continue to hold the line on earmarks in the House and require unprecedented disclosure from Members in both parties who seek earmarks, as well as from the Administration,” Pelosi writes.