Marine Transportation System

Archive for December 20th, 2010|Daily archive page

WRDA: Commonsense Earmarking

In Federal Government, Infrastructure, Leadership, Politics, Water Resources on December 20, 2010 at 8:01 pm

A restaurant is moving into our nearby Del Ray Alexandria neighborhood (and not nearly soon enough, I might add).  It is unabashedly called Pork Barrel BBQ.

The name–chosen by a  couple of former Senate staffers now opening their first restaurant–has plenty of context in the Washington area where “pork barrel” is a mud that gets slung by persons of all partisan and ideological stripes  deservedly or not.  The observation goes…”One man’s pork barrel is another man’s needed project” (or favorite eatery, as the case may be).

But let’s reject the term for such time as it takes to rationally debate the issue of earmarking.

The previous post on this blog discusses how a broad brush is being used in the “earmark” debate in Congress where schizophrenia has been in great evidence as party members opine on the subject of how earmarking should be treated by House and Senate rules starting next year.

You can tell that rhetoric and ideology are getting their way when House GOP leadership is telling the rank and file to cut their griping and just deal with it.  It being a prohibition on all earmarking (writ broad).

The thinking person should have problems with that.  Putting aside an obvious constitutional argument, let’s consider how not all project types are alike.  And to keep this short, let’s stipulate that while some earmarks are  little more than grand ideas others have been subjected to considerable analysis.  Put water resource projects in the latter category.

Federal water projects go back to 1824 when Congress told the US Army Corps of Engineers to make rivers safe for navigation.  Today the Corps’ civil works mission includes navigation (the Federal system of coastal and inland channels), protection against floods and shore erosion, and other project types.  Today projects are put through  an extensive and expensive series of wringers: environmental, engineering and economic analysis, EISs, White House sign-offs, reports to Congress, contracts between local project sponsors and the Federal government (covering sharing of costs, provision of lands, etc.), congressional authorization of projects that satisfy the various tests (see WRDA), and  subsequent funding decisions by Congress.  Oh, and there’s the public input opportunities along the way as well as more recent provisions for “peer” review of Corps feasibility studies.

As Amy Larson of the National Waterways Conference put it in her letter to Republican leaders, “water resources projects are scrutinized, arguably, to a greater extent than any other capital investment program in the government…”

In his letter of November 29, 2010, Kurt Nagle of the American Association of Port Authorities told the leaders “it is vital to find a solution that provides a process that enables investments in needed improvements in transportation infrastructure to move forward in a non-earmark environment, especially new-start construction projects.”

Yes, you are bound to find “pork” by someone’s definition even among scrutinized water resources projects but that can be managed through oversight by appropriators.  But if the leadership is not taking the time to understand differences among project types, the high hurdles that navigation projects must overcome to qualify for authorization and funding, or the simple fact that most of the nation’s navigation system consists of FEDERAL channels that Congress is obliged to maintain and improve in the national interest, then they appear to be engaging in little more than indiscriminate mud slinging.   Pbea

 

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