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The federal budget practice of “earmarking” – or “pork spending” as it is known colloquially – has exploded during the last 15 years. Earmarks are line items in spending bills inserted by legislators for specific projects in their home states.
Some infamous earmarks funded a $50 million indoor rain forest in Iowa and a $223 million “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska. Earmarks can provide recipients with federal grant money, contracts, loans, or other types of benefits.
The number of pork projects have increased from fewer than 1,500 annually in the mid-1990s to 9,129 today, according to the Citizens Against Government Waste’s 2010 Congressional Pig Book, the group’s annual edition of pork-barrel spending. In 2010 pork brought in earmarks worth $16.5 billion.
Earmark projects are generally those that have not been requested by the president and have not been subject to expert review or competitive bidding. For example, if the government had $1 billion to spend on bioterrorism research, it might be earmarked to go to laboratories to the districts of important politicians, rather than to labs chosen by a panel of scientists. Earmarking has soared in most areas of the budget, including defense, education, housing, scientific research and transportation.
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