Exposing earmarks

August 15, 2006 at 9:42 am

A broad coalition of bloggers, outside groups and media organizations have come together to build a comprehensive database that compiles over 1800 pork projects contained in the Labor Health and Human Services Appropriations bill. The Club for Growth’s Andy Roth helps explain:

In an unprecedented move, we then proceeded to transcribe those pork projects into a massive database that illustrated what the project was, the dollar amount, and the city and state where it was located (but even that wasn’t always possible since these projects are sometimes vaguely described).

What we also couldn’t do was readily identify the lawmakers who requested each project. Because earmark reform has, not surprisingly, stalled in Congress, politicians can still get away with allocating millions of dollars without any accountability.

The DC Examiner asks its readers to help with this problem:

Check out the earmarks for your state and then call your congressman and ask if he or she sponsored any of your state’s earmarks. If the answer is yes, ask why the congressman’s name isn’t on the earmark. If you recognize the institution designated to receive the earmarked tax dollars, call them and ask them what they intend to do with your money.

Then email us at with the subject line “Earmarks” and tell us what you found out. The Examiner will be asking more questions about who got the earmarks and why, so your information could be very important. You will be part of an army of citizen journalists determined to shine some much-needed light on spending decisions made behind closed doors by powerful Members of Congress.

The Examiner lists the projects state by state for easy navigation. The Sunlight Foundation is helping lead this pork-busting extravaganza.

UPDATE: More bloggers weighing in…Instapundit and Robert Bluey.

UPDATE: N.Z. Bear’s page with graphs and stats is a must read.

Taxpayer funded “bunks for drunks”?

July 6, 2006 at 10:53 am

You couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried. A Seattle area program is using taxpayer dollars to facilitate the continued addiction and self destruction of homeless alcoholics. The NY Times reports:

SEATTLE, June 30 — Rodney Littlebear was a homeless drunk who for 15 years ran up the public tab with trips to jail, homeless shelters and emergency rooms.

He now has a brand-new, government-financed apartment where he can drink as much as he wants. It is part of a first-in-the-nation experiment to ease the torment of drug and alcohol addiction while saving taxpayers’ money.

Last year, King County created a list of 200 “chronic public inebriates” in the Seattle region who had cost the most to round up and care for. Seventy-five were offered permanent homes in a new apartment building known by its address, 1811 Eastlake.

Each had been a street drunk for several years and had failed at least six efforts at sobriety. In a controversial acknowledgment of their addiction, the residents — 70 men and 5 women — can drink in their rooms. They do not have to promise to drink less, attend Alcoholics Anonymous or go to church…

These are the “unsympathetic homeless” who beg, drink, urinate and vomit in public — and they are probably the most difficult to get off the streets, said Bill Hobson, executive director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center, the nonprofit group that owns 1811 Eastlake.

In 2003, the public spent $50,000, on average, for each of 40 homeless alcoholics found most often at the jail, the sobering center and the public Harborview Medical Center, said Amnon Shoenfeld, director of King County’s division of mental health and chemical abuse.

Mr. Hobson’s group expected the annual cost for each new resident of 1811 Eastlake to be $13,000, or a total of $950,000. It cost $11.2 million to build and is paid for entirely by the City of Seattle and county, state and federal governments.

The actual price tag will probably rise because residents have more serious health problems than expected, said Margaret King, a social worker who manages the building….

The building’s critics are particularly incensed that residents do not have to stay sober. The Seattle Times, in 2004, editorialized that government should insist that the residents quit drinking in order to live there.

“Bunks for drunks — it’s a living monument to failed social policy,” said John Carlson, a conservative radio talk show host here. This approach, he said, is “aiding and abetting someone’s self-destruction.”…

Influential Bush administration officials have come to support this project, including the on-site drinking. John Meyers, director of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s regional office here, said he blanched when he learned that his agency had pledged $2 million for it. He now calls 1811 Eastlake “a glorious experiment.”

Wow…unbelievable. Does it offend anyone else that federal tax dollars would help facilitate this behavior? I am all for saving tax dollars, but this approach seems patently absurd. And who knows if it even will save tax dollars in the end.

Coburn bill would open up government to net

July 5, 2006 at 11:11 am

Grants, contracts and other government tax-payer funded transactions are notorious for being frought with waste and abuse. A good way to fix the problem is to pull back the veil of secrecy and let everyone look in on the behind the scenes machinations. The internet provides the tools for this to happen, and a new bill proposed by Senators Tom Coburn and Barrack Obama would help make this a reality.

Exasperated by his party’s failure to cut government spending, Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, is seeking cyberhelp.

Mr. Coburn wants to create a public database, searchable over the Internet, that would list most government contracts and grants — exposing hundreds of billions in annual spending to instant desktop view.

Type in “Halliburton,” the military contractor, or “Sierra Club,” the environmental group, for example, and a search engine would show all the federal money they receive. A search for the terms “Alaska” and “bridges” would expose a certain $223 million span to Gravina Island (population 50) that critics call the “Bridge to Nowhere.”

While advocating for openness, Mr. Coburn is also placing a philosophical bet that the more the public learns about federal spending, the less it will want.

Billions in Katrina funding wasted

June 27, 2006 at 8:14 am

I hesitate to link to this story because the NY Times is running it…and let’s just say I am less than enamored with that outfit right now. But link I must because this story is huge. According to the Times, rampant fraud and abuse associated with Congressionally approved funding for Katrina-cleanup is costing the taxpayer billions. Are you surprised? I am not.

A hotel owner in Sugar Land, Tex., has been charged with submitting $232,000 in bills for phantom victims. And roughly 1,100 prison inmates across the Gulf Coast apparently collected more than $10 million in rental and disaster-relief assistance.

There are the bureaucrats who ordered nearly half a billion dollars worth of mobile homes that are still empty, and renovations for a shelter at a former Alabama Army base that cost about $416,000 per evacuee.

And there is the Illinois woman who tried to collect federal benefits by claiming she watched her two daughters drown in the rising New Orleans waters. In fact, prosecutors say, the children did not exist.

The tally of ignoble acts linked to Hurricane Katrina, pulled together by The New York Times from government audits, criminal prosecutions and Congressional investigations, could rise because the inquiries are under way.

Even in Washington, a city accustomed to government bloat, the numbers are generating amazement.

“The blatant fraud, the audacity of the schemes, the scale of the waste — it is just breathtaking,” said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Yes, Senator Collins, it is breathtaking…but I don’t recall you joining a chorus of House-side conservatives who expressed their fear that this would happen and attempted to offset the funding. Look for the pols to line up and condemn the waste as fast as possible now…but someone needs to ask them why they didn’t see this coming at the time. After all, it was foreseeable:

Such an outcome was feared soon after Congress passed the initial hurricane relief package, as officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross acknowledged that their systems were overwhelmed and tried to create new ones on the fly.

“We did, in fact, put into place never-before-used and untested processes,” Donna M. Dannels, acting deputy director of recovery at FEMA, told a House panel this month. “Clearly, because they were untested, they were more subject to error and fraud.”

When you rush, for political purposes, to appropriate billions and billions of dollars, so as not be appear callous to the very real suffering of Gulf Coast victims, you are bound to be careless with American’s tax dollars.

UPDATE: A reader emails the following:

There are two issues……how you pay for the relief (which conservatives rightfully made a big deal about)…..and how the money is actually spend (which I have yet to see a House side conservative really talk about…probably so they don’t embarass the Administration).

In fact, I think Collins is the only R out there talking about how the money was wasted. If you want to beat her up on the first issue….fine…….but don’t say that the House conservatives (like Mike Pence) are stronger on the second issue, because they are MIA.

The reader also points out that Collins did read a statement into the Congressional record in May of 2005 that highlighted waste fraud and abuse issues within FEMA.

Point taken…but a few additional points should be made.

One, there are other Republicans talking about this. Tom Coburn for one…Coburn has a bill right now that actually would be helpful in this regard. The Coburn/Obama database bill would create a database of all federal grants and contracts that would be searchable by citizen investigators. Watchdog groups and concerned individuals would be able to find out exactly how federal money is being spent. This would go a long way towards increasing transparency and rooting out fraud and abuse. It would be nice to see Senator Collins and some others help Coburn in that effort. Collins did to her credit support another Coburn bill creating a CFO to root out waste fraud and abuse within FEMA.

Two,isn’t it politically harder for house conservatives to raise the offset ruckus beforehand than it is for Collins and others to point out waste and abuse after the fact? Demanding offsets was politically unpopular at the time and it took guts. Granted, offsets and waste fraud and abuse would seem to be different issues on the surface, but to me they are both part of a larger issue: stewardship of American’s tax dollars. It would be nice to see Senators demand offsets on the front end, and then root out waste and abuse on the back end. That would be consistency as far as stewardship is concerned.

Finally, it is worth noting the actual votes for the Katrina funding. In May, the Senate passed yet another emergency supplemental bill appropriating funding to Katrina cleanup. For the most part, it was only the fiscal conservatives in the Senate who voted against the funding (see roll call). At the staggering tally of $103 billion, those votes seemed appropriate.