(CNSNews.com) -- The price tag for congressional legislative spending provisions — commonly referred to as “earmarks” — added by the Republican-controlled Congress for Fiscal Year 2016 totaled $5.1 billion, reflecting an 88.9 percent increase since 2014, according to Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW).
The non-profit group, which focuses on federal waste, fraud and abuse, released its 24th annual report on earmarks — pejoratively referred to as pork-barrel spending — Wednesday in Washington, D.C.
The press conference was attended by Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Reps. Bill Flores (R-Texas) and Mick Mulvaney (R-La.).
“PigFoot”, CAGW’s costumed mascot, and a live pig nicknamed “Hambassador Faye" were also in attendance.
“Earmarks create a few winners (appropriators, special interests, and lobbyists) and a great many losers (taxpayers),” the report outlines. “They contribute to the deficit directly, by tacking on extra funding, and indirectly, by attracting votes to costly legislation that would not otherwise pass.
"Earmarks corrupt democracy by eclipsing more important matters in the minds of legislators and voters.”
According to the watchdog group’s 2016 Congressional Pig Book Summary, “the cost of earmarks in FY 2016 is $5.1 billion, an increase of 21.4 percent from the $4.2 billion in FY 2015. While the increase in cost over one year is disconcerting, the two-year rise of 88.9 percent over the $2.7 billion in FY 2014 is downright disturbing."
In contrast to previous years, “the average dollar amount for the earmarks in FY 2016 was $36.6 million, while in FY 2010 that average was $1.1 million,” the report added.
McCain, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, took direct aim at defense earmarks, which comprise 64.7 percent of the earmarks in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016.
“Unfortunately, because it’s the Willie Sutton syndrome in defense (a reference to the famed early 20th century felon who said he robbed banks ‘because that’s where the money is’) that’s where a lot of the waste and pork resides - in defense appropriations bills,” he said.
McCain zeroed in on an earmark that was added by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)
“$225 million for a joint high-speed vessel which is made in Alabama — which was put in by Sen. Shelby of Alabama — which the Navy neither needs nor wants,” McCain said.
“That’s the second vessel. Not the first, but the second vessel,” McCain said.
“$225 million. That comes out to $450 million. And anybody who knows about anything shipbuilding, the cost of building a ship is the beginning. You have to man it, and you have to operate it... it’s a continuing expense.”
The Government Accountability Office stated in a Feb. 25 press release that the Pentagon was “unable to pass” an audit “because of persistent problems with the Department of Defense’s (DOD) finances, the federal government’s inability to account for and reconcile certain transactions, an ineffective process for preparing consolidated financial statements, and significant uncertainties.”
The DOD has “got to be auditable,” Flores told CNSNews.com. “All too often, the excuse has been that it’s not auditable. That’s not true. I mean there is a way to get it audited. They just haven’t shown the fortitude to get it done.”
Flores’ insistence that DOD — which had a proposed FY2016 budget request of $585.3 billion in discretionary budget authority — should be audited resonated with CAGW President Thomas Schatz.
“No one questions the capabilities and the dedication of our military, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be able to determine where the money’s being spent and how,” he told CNSNews.
“Many other agencies have clean audits, which is very important for taxpayers to know how their money is being spent. And in this case, it’s the most important department for our national security and we should know where it [the money] is,” Schatz continued.
Contrasting the private sector with how government operates, Schatz asked, “Would you invest in a company that wasn’t audited?”
The Congressional Pig Book Summary contains a list of FY2016 earmarks, including:
“$40,000,000 for the continued upgrade of the M1 Abrams tank.... Over the objections of senior DOD officials, members of Congress have for many years been earmarking funds for the M1 upgrade program.… In fact, the Army has so many M1 tanks that 2,000 of them are parked in a California desert.”
“$20,000,000 for alternative energy research. Since FY 2004, Congress has used the defense appropriations bill as a vehicle to insert 26 earmarks worth $274.9 million for this purpose, despite the fact that the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act supplies billions of dollars for alternative energy research every year.”
“$56,600,000 for the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program (HIDTA) at the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Originally intended for border states, members of Congress have used earmarks to expand HIDTA to non-border states. Since FY 1997, 30 earmarks costing taxpayers $269.8 million have been provided for HIDTA programs; 16 of the earmarks were directed to programs in 10 states, only two of which, Arizona and New Mexico, are border states.”
$5,900,000 for the East-West Center in Hawaii, which is intended to promote better relations with Pacific and Asian nations. The center was established by Congress in 1960 with no congressional hearings and over the State Department’s opposition...Since FY 1997, the center has received 13 earmarks totaling $121.5 million.”