Murtha lives on in one pet project

Despite the drastic cuts in pork-barrel spending on the defense bill, the legacy of the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) — 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., in the 2011 Pentagon-spending bill.

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, the House Appropriations Defense panel greenlit a total of 458 member projects worth $1.22 billion. That is more than half of the amount that made it in the 2010 defense bill.