Longtime Wisconsin Senator (from 1957 to 1989) William Proxmire, a Democrat, has a new acolyte: Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI.
The First District Congressman today announced the recipients of his first Budget Boondoggle Awards, an "homage" to Proxmire's Golden Fleece Awards, which the senator started in 1975 to highlight government waste. The first Golden Fleece went to the National Science Foundation for conducting an $84,000 study about why people fall in love.
Much has changed in the intervening 33 years -- especially the amounts of questionable spending. Ryan's first Boondoggle Awards -- a two-way tie for first place -- cost taxpayers $59 million.
Ryan's first awards went to:
-- The Ferry to Nowhere – a $20-million earmark for a craft connecting the Alaskan communities of Anchorage and Port MacKenzie – serving a total of 40 residents.
-- The National Drug Intelligence Center’s “jobs program” – a $39-million earmark for a duplicative program that the President has sought to eliminate since at least 2005.
Honorable Mention went to the Omnibus Appropriations Bill with its $18 billion in earmarks that have long been the bane of Ryan's existence.
Details of the two major award winners after the break:
THE “FERRY TO NOWHERE” ($20 Million)
-- This earmark will pay for a ferry to connect Anchorage with Port MacKenzie on the rural Alaskan peninsula of Matanuska-Susitna Borough – ostensibly to test, for the Navy, how well the vessel could cut through ice. The ferry connects the same route as one of the celebrated, and previously abandoned, “Bridges to Nowhere.”
-- The ferry will reduce an approximately 2-hour drive to a trip of around 30 minutes – for the benefit of the 40 people who are employed on the peninsula.
-- The Office of Naval Research [ONR] did not request the funding and had actually rejected a similar proposal, saying that the project was not a high priority.
-- Despite the Navy’s rejection, this earmark received $20 million in this year’s DOD Appropriations bill, on top of nearly $50 million that was included for this project in appropriations bills between 2002 and 2006.
-- To make the ferry more “appropriate” for the Defense Appropriations bill, it was dubbed “an expeditionary craft” by the Ranking Member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Most proponents acknowledge, however, that it will ultimately be used as a commercial ferry.
-- In a time of war and deficit spending, this earmark begs the question: when did the Navy – already fully committed to the Global War on Terrorism – begin building commercial ferries?
THE NDIC ‘JOBS PROGRAM’ ($39 Million)
-- The National Drug Intelligence Center [NDIC] was established in 1993 to collect and coordinate intelligence from law enforcement agencies, providing a strategic look on the war on drugs. Its role duplicates the efforts of other agencies, such as the El Paso Intelligence Center. But despite this, it has continued to receive funding for the past 15 years.
-- An administration official recently described the NDIC as “slow to delineate a unique or useful role within the drug intelligence community.” Last year, the House Government Reform Committee described the center’s budget as “an expensive and duplicative use of scarce Federal drug enforcement resources.”
-- Due to the problems with the NDIC, the President – since at least 2005 – has proposed shutting down the facility; and his fiscal year 2008 budget again proposed to do so.
-- But instead of eliminating the center, this congressional earmark directs $39 million to expand NDIC operations in 2008.
-- Not only is this bad policy, but the earmark is in the wrong bill: the NDIC falls within the Justice Department’s Drug Enforcement Administration, not under the jurisdiction of the DOD. Perhaps coincidentally, the earmark was requested by the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman.
Said Ryan: "While demanding taxpayers do with less, Congress was not required to do the same. Last year alone, billions of taxpayer dollars were lost to wasteful, self-serving pork spending.
“Congress is failing in its charge to spend taxpayer dollars wisely. We’ve got to clean up this process. It is my hope that by exposing wasteful spending practices, and by implementing important reforms such as an earmark moratorium and the line-item veto, we can greatly reduce the loss of taxpayer dollars to federal government waste.”