This year, the Appropriations Committees tweaked that annual rite of spring—submission of earmark spending requests by lawmakers. For the first time, members of Congress were required to publish their FY2010 earmark requests on their official website at the time they submitted them to the Committee. Taxpayers for Common Sense staff poured through every Congressional website to see just how well this rule was followed.

Not surprisingly, there’s great diversity amongst lawmakers' “transparency.” In many cases finding the earmark requests is pretty simple. Using clear language and prominent placement, some, including Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader McConnell (R-KY), linked directly to their requests from their homepage. Perhaps none was more upfront than Sen. Nelson (D-NE) with his graphic "NE Earmarks" emblazoned across the picture of a cow with an actual ear mark.

But many others buried their requests under an electronic rock, forcing constituents to click through several pages under legislation, district initiatives, press shops, constituent services, or some other general category. And once you find their earmark requests they take all manner of forms, from PDFs of actual letters, integrated databases, blocks of text, or summary write-ups on the page. Some lawmakers failed to include the requested amounts as directed, others did a poor job maintaining active links, and others posted all the requests their office received rather than just what they decided to request, cynically obscuring the information from their constituents.

The only thing consistent among the various websites is inconsistency. But for the first time in history, taxpayers have a near-complete picture of their elected representatives' spending priorities. The next step for transparency is to make all the requests centrally located, downloadable, searchable and sortable. And in a time of record deficits and spending, this window into the spending priorities of lawmakers is needed now more than ever.