President Issues Order Restricting Congressional Earmarks

On January 29, 2008, President Bush issued Executive Order 13457 “Protecting American Taxpayers From Government Spending on Wasteful Earmarks.” Executive Order 13457 could have a real impact on funding for specific historical sites and programs, research and archival projects, and colleges and universities since they are often times the beneficiaries of congressional earmarks.

The executive order follows through on the threat the President made during his State of the Union address this week to sharply curtail the ability of Members of Congress, through the use of earmarks in committee report language, to designate funds in appropriations legislation for specific projects or organizations, most often in their district or state.

The EO defines an earmark “as any funds provided by Congress for projects, programs, or grants where the congressional direction (whether in statutory text, report language, or other communication) (1) circumvents merit-based or competitive allocation processes; (2) specifies the location or recipient of the funds; or (3) otherwise limits the ability of the Executive Branch to manage its statutory and constitutional responsibilities for the allocation of federal funds.”

The battle between the executive and legislative branch over the use of earmarks has been going on for many years. “Pork barrel” projects, such as the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska have led to stronger efforts to curtail the increasing use of earmarks by Congress.

The use of earmarks grew exponentially during President Bush’s years in the White House when the Republican Party controlled Congress. According to the watchdog group Citizen’s Against Government Waste, in 2001 there were 6,333 earmarks totaling $18.5 billion in the federal budget. By 2005, that number had ballooned to $27.3 billion for 13,997 projects. In 2007, the first year the Democrats controlled Congress, the numbers dropped dramatically to $13.2 billion for 2,658 earmarks.

EO 13457 applies to earmarks in bills Congress will send to the President beginning in Fiscal Year 2009. The policy will remain in effect unless the Executive Order is repealed by a future President.

Specifically, the Executive Order:

Directs every Federal Agency to ensure that laws passed by Congress in the future do not spend money on an earmarked project based on language in a Committee report or any other communication from Members of Congress or other persons acting on their behalf.

Future non-statutory earmarks can only receive funding if the agency determines, pursuant to a merit-based decision process, that the project in question is the best possible expenditure of taxpayer dollars consistent with the law.

Members of Congress will have the opportunity, as they’ve always had, to advocate for projects they support. For these views to be considered as part of an Agency’s merit-based, decision-making process, however, they must be submitted in writing and will be made public on the Internet within 30 days.