News: News Archives
Congress Making a Cautious Return to R&D Earmarking, Says AAAS Budget Analyst
After a one-year moratorium on the controversial practice of earmarking federal funds for favored domestic projects, congressional lawmakers have returned to the practice but with earmarks that are smaller and more transparent, says a new AAAS analysis.
With the budget-making process still underway for the 2008 fiscal year that begins 1 October, appropriations panels in the U.S. Senate have designated $624 million for congressionally designated, performer-specific projects rather than for a department or agency's general budget, not including the Department of Defense. The U.S. House of Representatives has designated $529 million in earmarks for such projects, according to the new analysis by Kei Koizumi, director of the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program.
For both the House and the Senate, the non-Defense earmarks would comprise less than 1% of total R&D appropriations. Both would concentrate their earmarks in the Departments of Energy and Agriculture, though the Senate also would direct earmarked funds to projects in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Department of Homeland Security.
The Department of Defense (DoD) would remain the biggest single recipient of earmarked funds. While the Senate has yet to take action on the DoD appropriations bill, Koizumi reported, the House would devote $2.3 billion in R&D earmarks—just under 3 percent of the total $77.6 billion Defense R&D portfolio. That's an apparent decline from previous years, when congressional rules on reporting earmarks were less rigorous.
Earmarking has been controversial in many quarters on both sides of the political spectrum. Some critics charge that lawmakers abuse the process to direct funds to pet projects based in their own states or districts; others complain that it distorts the year-to-year federal budget-making process.
AAAS does not take a position on the practice. But thus far in the 2008 process, Koizumi found sharp departures from past earmarking practices.
"The current 110th Congress has made reforming the earmarking process a priority, and has promised to reduce the number and amount of earmarks from previous years and has also promised to make the earmarking process more transparent," he wrote. "Excluding DoD, these earmark totals [for 2008] are comparable or less than earmark totals from previous years except for 2007 [the moratorium year]."
Among other key findings of the AAAS analysis:
In every R&D agency except for some programs in the Department of Agriculture (USDA), earmarks approved so far by appropriations panels comprise less than 10% of total R&D funding appropriated by Congress. In past years, Koizumi said, "earmarks in selected USDA, NASA, and DOE programs sometimes made up 1 out of every 5 R&D dollars."Without that earmark and others, USDA R&D funding in both the House and Senate spending plans would fall compared to 2007 levels.
One of the key exceptions for 2008: "R&D earmarks total 18% of all extramural research in the [USDA's] Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) in the House appropriation and 12% in the Senate, making these a significant drain on resources that might have gone to competitively awarded research grants or formula-based research funding."
More than half of the R&D earmarks would go to 10 states under both the House and Senate plans. But each chamber has a distinctly different Top 10. The House earmarks flow to big, populous states—California, Pennsylvania and Florida lead the list. The Senate Top 10, Koizumi found, "are mostly smaller states with senators in key committee chairmanships"—Mississippi, New Mexico and Tennessee are at the top.
Academic institutions "receive the bulk of earmarks for non-defense R&D," while "defense R&D earmarks tend to favor industrial [project] performers." But congressional earmarks also direct funds to specific projects conducted by federal laboratories and non-profit groups.
Some agencies would "remain earmark-free," Koizumi found. Following past tradition, research budgets for the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health would not have earmarks. And the Department of Homeland Security would receive its first earmarked funds since its founding in 2003.
The final outcome of the fiscal year 2008 budget—and the pending earmarks—remains uncertain. Congress convenes again after Labor Day, and with much budget work still to be done. Lawmakers have added billions of dollars in new R&D spending to the budget proposed by President George W. Bush. Overall, they have exceeded his domestic spending plan by $21 billion, raising the risk of a presidential veto.
But the earmark reforms appear to be holding.
Edward W. Lempinen
31 August 2007