Saturday, November 10, 2007

Pork by any other name...

Mike Rogers is proud to be an opponent of earmarks. His earmark tangle with Rep. Murtha (D-PA) earlier this year made a lot of headlines; in June, he wrote a guest column in the Lansing State Journal stating that
every dollar the federal government spends should be vetted, offered in a transparent way, and open for debate. If we turn the lights on the earmark process, we can work to protect Americans against the abuse that has brought us considerable misuse of the public's hard-earned dollars.
More recently, Mr. Rogers was reportedly cranky about the first S-CHIP bill because it contained "improperly disclosed" earmarks for Tennessee hospitals serving a large number of low-income adults (um, it also contained a $1.2 billion earmark for MI healthcare over a 10-year period, but that's another story).

Now, I am all for the government being responsible when it spends my money. And I don't have a problem with Representatives helping out their districts. In fact, it's a Representative's job to help out the district.

A closer look at earmarks shows that they aren't quite so helpful. Earmarks fund projects that aren't competitively bid. Sometimes, they fund projects that the recipient department (HHS, Defense, etc.) haven't even requested. And it wasn't until this Congress that House members were required to provide disclosure when they inserted an earmark (the Senate can still earmark anonymously).

So I wasn't impressed to read yesterday's Press & Argus story about a $1.6 million earmark for Brighton-based Lowry Computer Products' base security system to allow the military to better track trucks on military bases.

I was even less impressed when I found that in July, Rogers asked for $4 million for Lowry's base security system project. This earmark was to fund proof of concept tests and perform a demonstration project on a security system that would allow the military to better track who and what is on base.

From Lowry's website, you can see this that is a very successful company. They offer a variety of commercial RFID, wireless and bar code applications; their clients include General Mills, International Paper, Lexmark, Sony and 3M. They also have a lot of experience with government contracts:
For more than fifteen years Lowry has supplied the U.S. Government with technology products and services. All Lowry solutions are backed by a nationwide
service network and supported by a specialized staff that is highly trained in the Government market. Lowry currently holds two Blanket Purchase Agreements (BPAs) issued by the Army Contracting Agency (ACA). One BPA is for RFID EPC Class 1 smart labels and the other for EPC Class 1 printers and RFID label design software.
I'm glad that there's a strong, healthy company in Brighton, a bright spot in the otherwise not-so-good economic picture for our region.

The question is, why does an already successful business need almost $6 million in earmarked funds?

It seems that Lowry isn't alone. The New York Times reported that
House lawmakers still tacked on to the military appropriations bill $1.8 billion to pay 580 private companies for projects the Pentagon did not request.


The House version of the military bill includes 1,337 earmarks totaling $3 billion, the most Congressional earmarks in any of the spending bills passed this year. A conference committee is now reconciling House and Senate versions. The Senate added $5 billion in earmarks, but it is difficult to determine the sponsors because it has no disclosure rules.

Fully-disclosed pork is better than anonymous pork -- but it's still pork!

Don't take my word for it. The same Times article quoted Rep. Flake (a/k/a The Club for Growth's Poster Boy:

“Pork hasn’t gone away at all,” said Representative Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, an earmark critic who cites the “circular fund-raising” surrounding many of them. “It would be wonderful if this was a partisan issue, with Republicans on the right side, but it is really not. Many of these companies use money appropriated through earmarks to turn around and lobby for more money. Some of them are just there to receive earmarks.”

Congressional earmarks are for programs that are not competitively bid, and the Bush administration has complained that they waste taxpayer dollars and skew priorities from military needs, like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the global war on terror.
Some in Michigan's own GOP are critical of Mike's penchant for earmarks. From Livingston County's own Republican Michigander, here's a post titled "Can't go along with this, Mike":
I know earmarks is how the game is played. I know that this is an attempt to bring home the bacon to the 8th district. The problem is the game itself, and Mike had a good chance to be a hero. [skip] This was a good chance for Mike Rogers to request no earmarks and once again call out the democrats, as well as the Ted Stevens acolytes in the GOP side of the house, and bring some fiscal responsibility to the party which - until recently - carried that banner. The system is broke, and this was a good chance to fix it.
Mr. Rogers, why is it OK for you to play both sides of the fence? If you're against earmarks, show some leadership and don't weasel them in. If you think they're fine when properly disclosed, then don't get on your partisan high horse and criticize Democrats who do the same thing.


Anonymous said...

Republican Michigander is by some dude in Howell, not Saul Anuzis. Saul Anuzis appeared to have nothing to do with the post you link to. You need to correct or delete that.

Kelster93 said...

Thanks for the tip, Anonymous.