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Trends in Earmark Submitters: FY 2023

A report on the patterns of submissions in STEM-related earmarks

In the appropriations bills, there is a way for legislators to direct spending towards a specific district, locality, or institution. Known as earmarks, congress first banned them in 2011, but legislators brought them back for 2022, albeit renamed as "community funding projects" in the House and "Congressionally directed spending" in the Senate, and with rules to boost transparency. This report will continue to use the old term, earmark, to refer to both.

Earmarks are now capped at 1% of discretionary spending and they cannot be directed toward for-profit entities. Additionally, not every subcommittee can allocate funding towards earmarks, and the agencies and departments whose funding can be allocated are limited as well. This year, 10 of the 12 appropriations subcommittees were eligible for earmark requests in the House and 9 of 12 in the Senate, though not all contained STEM-relevant items.

The rules vary between the House and Senate; for example, Representatives are capped at 15 submissions while Senators are not. For a full list of the rules, refer to these Congressional Research Service reports on the House [PDFand Senate [PDF].

The number of earmarks increased in the 2023 budget, with a 45% increase in earmarks signed into law compared to 2022, and a 70% increase in the value of the earmarks that made it to the omnibus, as can be seen in Table 1.

AAAS read through the earmarks for each bill and identified those with a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) focus. This includes, among others, the purchase of new equipment, development or expansion of education programs, funding facility renovations, increasing job training in STEM-heavy fields, and the establishment of entirely new programs or institutions. A full list of each STEM-related earmark can be found in our interactive map.

The STEM-related earmarks that AAAS identified similarly saw an increase over the two years since earmarks have returned, with 80% more unique earmarks approved in the final omnibus for FY 2023, and more than doubling of their monetary value.

A table showing how many earmarks were submitted overall, and how many STEM-related earmarks were submitted, in 2022 and 2023

The following report will be diving deeper into who submitted STEM-related earmarks – looking across the impact of party affiliation, seniority, and geographic region on the topic and value of the earmarks we coded.

Download the full report here.