A top taxpayer watchdog group is out with its annual list of wasteful government spending projects, including millions to improve salmon habitats and to unnecessarily upgrade military equipment over commanders' objections.
Pork-spending projects totaled $2.7 billion for 2014, down from $3.3 billion in 2012, according to Citizens Against Government Waste and its annual "Pig Book."
Copies of the Obama administration's proposed budget are wheeled to the Senate Budget Committee hearing room March 4, 2014 in Washington, DC. The proposed budget is US President Barack Obama plan for the 2015 fiscal year. (AFP/Getty Images/Brendan Smialowski)
While the group said there were fewer earmarks than in previous years, projects for 2014 involved larger amounts of money with fewer details.
Among the spending projects cited by Citizens Against Government Waste were $15 million for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund and $90 million to upgrade a type of tank that Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno had repeatedly stated was unnecessary.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency received $21 million for its program to assess and improve the country’s preparedness for an emergency, and $5 million went to abstinence education.
The watchdog group's findings come despite assertions from Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) that the 2014 omnibus spending bill passed was earmark-free.
Citizens Against Government Waste said it uses different measurements and standards to determine what constitutes an earmark.
"Members of Congress will argue that their standards differ from the earmark criteria used in the Pig Book, but that has been true since the first Pig Book in 1991," the organization said. "Unfortunately, the earmark moratorium has not only failed to eliminate earmarks, but also made the process patently less transparent. Since earmarks were deemed to be nonexistent in the [fiscal year] 2014 omnibus bill, there are no names of legislators, no list or chart of earmarks, and limited information on where and why the money will be spent. Earmarks were scattered throughout the legislative and report language, requiring substantial detective work to unearth each project."
Despite their unpopularity among the public, some lawmakers defend earmarks as necessary for governing.
“I have been a fan of earmarks since I got here the first day,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters Tuesday. “Keep in mind, that’s what the country has done for more than 200 years, except for the brief period of time in recent years that we haven’t done these.”
The watchdog group noted that the costs of pork projects in both 2012 and 2014 are significant reductions from the record $29 billion in earmarks set in fiscal year 2006.
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