Billions of earmarks in Defense Bill

The system of earmarks seems really odd to an outsider. Things totally unrelated to a bill get added on just to please important legislators or buy votes. I guess the practice is not banned simply because such means of distributing pork is found of great use in keeping constituents happy and ensuring re-election of more pork barrel politicians.

Billions in earmarks inflate defense bill's cost
Joe Garofoli, Chronicle Staff Writer

The Department of Defense didn't ask for money to update the old officers club in San Francisco's Presidio into a visitors information center and exhibition space. Neither did any other member of Congress - except House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Her $5 million earmark request for the Presidio Heritage Center was approved by the Senate on Saturday as part of the $626 billion defense appropriations bill, the largest of the end-of-year government spending measures.

The bill, which includes $128 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, is expected to be signed by President Obama.

Pelosi's request was one of 1,720 earmarks - including several from Bay Area legislators - worth $4.2 billion in the measure.

That comes on the heels of Congress passing a $447 billion spending bill Dec. 13 that included 5,224 earmarks totaling $3.9 billion, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group. The earmarks include $54 million for a flood-control project that will raise two trestles used by the Napa Valley Wine Train.

'Pork-barrel project'
Watchdog organizations say money for the Presidio project is "curious" defense expenditure at best, and pork-barrel politics at its worst. The Presidio closed as a military entity in 1989 and was transferred to the National Park Service five years later. In March, Pelosi tucked $1.75 million for the center into a different spending bill.

"It is the epitome of what a pork-barrel project is," said David Williams, vice president of policy for Citizens Against Government Waste, a taxpayer watchdog group. "If this were a project that was meritorious, then why didn't the Pentagon request it?"

After the defense spending bill passed the House this week, Pelosi issued a statement praising the measure for making "critical investments in the success, health, well-being and training of our men and women in uniform."

Pelosi mentioned that the bill included a pay raise for military personnel and resources for everything from treating troops suffering from traumatic brain injury to money for "first-class equipment and armor."

But she didn't mention the money for the Presidio Heritage Center.

It is "curious" but not surprising why such a project would be in the defense appropriations bill, said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. "It's because you wouldn't get a $5 million earmark in the Department of the Interior (appropriations) bill. It would stick out like a sore thumb."



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