Byrd Wants Another Fed Facility in West Virginia

By Bruce Sullivan | July 7, 2008 | 8:26pm EDT

( -Democratic Senator Robert Byrd has an uncanny ability to get federal facilities located in his home state, but his latest attempt to "bring home the bacon" to West Virginia has rankled some of his colleagues.

Byrd, the ranking Democrat on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, is trying to get $25 million for a training facility for the U.S. Customs Service at Harpers Ferry, WV, a maneuver that some of Byrd's fellow Congressmen have called wasteful and redundant.

"It's a $25 million dollar boondoggle and a virtual blank check for West Virginia to do something that can be done at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center" in Brunswick, Georgia, said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA).

"We don't need the duplicity; we don't need another facility, and it's a complete waste of money," added Kingston.

Byrd says the additional training facility is needed to provide refresher courses in marksmanship and tactical skills for U.S. Customs inspectors and special agents.

If Byrd is successful in his latest attempt to get "pork barrel spending" directed to his state, it would be a drop-in-the-bucket compared to all the other federal agencies he has managed to relocate to his mountainous state 70 miles east of Washington, D.C.

The Internal Revenue Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the FBI and the Coast Guard all have major facilities in West Virginia. Those, and other agencies, have offices in Alderson, Beckley, Charleston, Clarksburg, Fairmont, Glenville, Green Bank, Hazelton, Falling Waters, Martinsburg, Shepherdstown, and elsewhere. Currently, there are more than 16,000 federal jobs in West Virginia.

"Bob Byrd has been slowly moving the nation's capital to West Virginia for the past 20 years," said Peter Sperry, a federal budgetary affairs expert at the Heritage Foundation.

Sperry said Byrd, who has been in the Senate since 1959, is a master at behind-the-scenes-politicking and using the Senate's seniority system to lobby for West Virginia.

"At this point, I'm surprised he hasn't put the headquarters of a major department, or, for that matter, Congress itself out there," said Sperry.

The 82-year-old Byrd, who is facing his eighth Senate election campaign this year, says his experience and seniority is "really valuable" to West Virginians.

And West Virginia has not kept quiet about its fondness for Byrd. The state has a Robert C. Byrd Bridge, a Robert C. Byrd High School, a Robert C. Byrd Freeway, a Robert C. Byrd Education and Resource Center and dozens of other eponymous monuments to his knack for feeding at the federal trough.

If Byrd is one of the best at "porking" the federal government - his Citizens Against Government Waste rating of 19 on a scale of 100 puts him in the watchdog group's lowest category - he is certainly not the only Member of Congress to break the federal piggybank. Georgia Democratic Sen. Max Cleland's CAGW rating is a paltry four.

"It's something we have to be very vigilant against," said Americans for Tax Reform spokesman Damon Ansell. "Especially these days with budget surpluses and so much extra money floating around Washington."

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