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OMB: Let's hear it on earmarks

KAI RYSSDAL: Congress is back at work next week. Budget negotiators will be using all of their insight. They'll be churning through appropriations bills for the various executive departments. And the White House wants to know exactly what lawmakers are up to.

A memo from the Office of Management and Budget orders agency heads to pass along the specifics of congressional earmarks — those sometimes dark-of-night congressional pet projects that are slipped into spending bills.

Marketplace's Hillary Wicai reports.


HILLARY WICAI: The Office of Management and Budget plans to put all of that earmark information in a database for legislators and taxpayers to see. Steve McMillan is the deputy director at OMB. He says the goal is simple:
STEVE MCMILLAN: We'd like the information to be available to inform the legislative process.

Government watchdogs are also all about improving transparency and cutting back on airbrushing extra spending into bills in the dead of night. They call this database a good step but wonder if it'll really cut down on spending. Nick Schwellenbach with the Project on Government Oversight says there are already reports of legislators finding ways to run silent and deep and continue to slip that spending into bills.

NICK SCHWELLENBACH: Legislators are getting in touch with the agencies and having those agencies request what the legislators would have, in the past, just simply earmarked. So now it doesn't look like an earmark anymore but it's essentially the same thing.

And some Democrats complain the database is a bit disingenuous. It will only contain congressional earmarks and not the White House's earmarks. Representative Jim Cooper, a Democrat from Tennessee, is a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition.

JIM COOPER: The White House, if it wants to be fair, shouldn't give their own earmarks any preference over congressional earmarks. We're an equal branch of government.

At OMB Watch one senior advisor agrees that's a tough spot that might require a bit more Windex for true transparency. He says in terms of legislative earmarks the database will be outstanding. In terms of executive earmarks, he gives it an F.

In Washington, I'm Hillary Wicai for Marketplace.


KAI RYSSDAL: Congress is back at work next week. Budget negotiators will be using all of their insight. They'll be churning through appropriations bills for the various executive departments. And the White House wants to know exactly what lawmakers are up to.

A memo from the Office of Management and Budget orders agency heads to pass along the specifics of congressional earmarks — those sometimes dark-of-night congressional pet projects that are slipped into spending bills.

Marketplace's Hillary Wicai reports.


HILLARY WICAI: The Office of Management and Budget plans to put all of that earmark information in a database for legislators and taxpayers to see. Steve McMillan is the deputy director at OMB. He says the goal is simple:
STEVE MCMILLAN: We'd like the information to be available to inform the legislative process.

Government watchdogs are also all about improving transparency and cutting back on airbrushing extra spending into bills in the dead of night. They call this database a good step but wonder if it'll really cut down on spending. Nick Schwellenbach with the Project on Government Oversight says there are already reports of legislators finding ways to run silent and deep and continue to slip that spending into bills.

NICK SCHWELLENBACH: Legislators are getting in touch with the agencies and having those agencies request what the legislators would have, in the past, just simply earmarked. So now it doesn't look like an earmark anymore but it's essentially the same thing.

And some Democrats complain the database is a bit disingenuous. It will only contain congressional earmarks and not the White House's earmarks. Representative Jim Cooper, a Democrat from Tennessee, is a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition.

JIM COOPER: The White House, if it wants to be fair, shouldn't give their own earmarks any preference over congressional earmarks. We're an equal branch of government.

At OMB Watch one senior advisor agrees that's a tough spot that might require a bit more Windex for true transparency. He says in terms of legislative earmarks the database will be outstanding. In terms of executive earmarks, he gives it an F.

In Washington, I'm Hillary Wicai for Marketplace.

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