Defense bill pet projects cut by half

One of the most powerful panels in the House has slashed the number of pet projects in the annual Pentagon spending bill by more than half.

The reduction in the Defense Department’s new spending measure illustrates how much has changed in the lucrative world of defense earmarks since last year. Republicans have banned pork-barrel projects from spending bills, while Democrats have instituted a moratorium on for-profit earmarks.

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The reduction in pet projects is also a notable departure from the earmark-laden spending bills that were produced when Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) was defense appropriations chairman. Murtha died in February.

House defense appropriators, led by new Chairman Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), this week approved 458 projects worth $1.22 billion as part of the Pentagon’s fiscal 2011 spending bill, according to data compiled by Taxpayers for Common Sense and The Hill. By comparison, the House included 1,080 earmarks worth $2.7 billon in the 2010 defense appropriations bill.

Democrats included 456 earmarks in the bill for universities, hospitals, technology centers and National Guard units, mostly in their home districts and states.

Only two Republicans, Reps. Don Young (Alaska) and Joseph Cao (La.), requested and received $10 million and $2.5 million, respectively, for projects.

Despite the drastic cuts in pork-barrel spending on the defense bill, the legacy of the late Murtha — known for his earmarking prowess — lives on in one pet project.

Some of Murtha’s closest congressional friends and lieutenants, Reps. Robert Brady (D-Pa.), Jim Moran (D-Va.), Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) and Mark Critz (D-Pa.), Murtha’s successor, secured $10 million for the John P. Murtha Center for Public Service in Johnstown, Pa.

The center will work to encourage students and the public to become active in the military and public service. The center also will serve as an archive and repository for Murtha’s public papers.

The 35,000-square-foot facility will be located at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, according to the lawmakers.

The commonwealth of Pennsylvania is matching federal funds for the Murtha center with a $10 million commitment. Private funding for the center is also being sought. On Wednesday, the John P. Murtha Foundation raised $1.2 million at the Army Navy Country Club, sources told The Hill.

It’s not uncommon for lawmakers to seek funding to memorialize their former colleagues. The institute of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), for example, has received more than $38 million in federal funding, some of which was requested while Kennedy was still alive. Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) secured another $10 million for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in the 2011 defense bill.

The money set aside for the legacy projects of former lawmakers is attracting criticism from taxpayer watchdog groups.

“While Rep. Murtha was a larger-than-life figure in defense spending for decades, carving out part of the Pentagon’s budget for what is essentially a Murtha library is irresponsible,” Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, told The Hill. “Considering that the fiscal-year 2010 bill had money for a library for the late Sen. Kennedy, this appears to be a trend.”

Overall, it is not only the number and substance of pet projects that have changed with the House’s 2011 defense bill, but also the list of lawmakers who received the highest dollar amounts.

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), one of the newest members of the defense panel, scored big this year, beating out some of the most veteran lawmakers on the committee, including its chairman, Dicks.

Ryan tops the chart with close to $50 million for pet projects, according to an analysis by The Hill and Taxpayers for Common Sense. Ryan is closely followed by Moran, the Virginia Democrat, with $48.8 million. Dicks ranks third with $44.8 million. Included in the calculations are a few pet projects each of the three Democrats shares with other lawmakers.

Moran spokeswoman Emily Blout noted that the congressman’s Northern Virginia District is home to the Pentagon and numerous defense-related agencies. He is proud of the quality of the projects that the committee chose to fund, she said.


Ryan did not waste any time touting the projects that received funding under the bill, ranging from advanced metals research to biometrics to alternative energy.

“These projects speak to the quality of the research happening in Northeast Ohio,” Ryan said in a statement to The Hill.

Dicks, the new chairman, scored $34.1 million in funding for projects he requested alone, topping the chart based on the dollar value of solo requests. He is closely followed by Ryan’s solo projects, worth $32.45 million.

“Congressman Dicks represents a state and district that have an enormous defense presence,” said Dicks’s chief of staff, George Behan. Most projects funded as part of the defense bill reflect the large naval presence in Dicks’s state, Behan noted.

Dicks said that his committee has been scrutinizing all project requests much more closely than in previous years and has ensured that they contribute to defense.

The final outlook for pet projects is still murky. The Senate defense panel has yet to write the 2011 defense bill, and Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) has not instituted a moratorium on for-profit earmarks. The real test for the projects will come when the two chambers start their negotiations on a final bill.