KAI RYSSDAL: It's a slow day in Washington. Congress is out of town and it's Good Friday to boot.
Our Steve Henn found himself with some extra time on his hands this morning. And he spent it online. With a database he found from the Office of Management and Budget. And its list of more than 13,000 congressional earmarks from the 2005 budget cycle — $19 billion worth of pork in all. Here's Steve with just some of what he learned today.
STEVE HENN: Good government types say a database of congressional earmarks is an important first step. And makes for some pretty interesting reading.
The largest single set-aside in 2005 went to Boeing — $168 million for four fat Chinook Helicopters. The second-largest earmark went to — wait for it — Boeing. This one for fighter planes. But earmarks are hard to track — even for government insiders.
DANA CHASIN: Often times you are talking about maybe one-line in a report or in legislation that's hundreds of pages long.
So Dana Chasin at OMB Watch wasn't surprised that more than two years after this money was appropriated, and presumably spent. The White House can't tell us who ultimately received more than 600 earmarks worth about $800 million dollars.
DANIELLE BRIAN: Isn't it amazing?
Danielle Brian, from the Project on Government Oversight, has tracked similar problems at the Pentagon for years.
BRIAN: You know. A lot of time we don't know where our money is being spent. It's horrifying.
The Department of Defense told the OMB the ultimate recipients of 51 separate congressional earmarks worth $367 million were quote, "Unknown."
OMB officials say they believe many of these issues are just technical misunderstandings and they hope to get more answers soon. One answer we may never have — even with this database — is which member of Congress put these projects in the budget to begin with.
In Washington, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace
RYSSDAL: The timing really couldn't have been better for Steve's discovery this morning. The Senate's back at work next week with the 2008 budget still to be finalized.