pageok
pageok
pageok
Pork:

The Defenders of Pork are preparing for battle, now that McCain has put pork in the center of the political debate. Joel Achenbach, in an article on the front page of today's Washington Post ("McCain sees Pork where Scientists See Success; Candidate Criticizes Ambitios Bear Study"), reports on a $3 million federal study to collect bear DNA in Montana; the study, which has been the subject of a number of McCain ads ridiculing the expenditure, turns out, according to many scientists quoted, to have been a major success, money well spent.

Now, I actually am a big fan of spending federal money to study bear DNA -- seriously. I spent a number of years, some time ago, as a wildlife biologist, and I am quite willing to believe that this was a useful study that collected important and valuable data on the genetics of the grizzly bear. BUT THAT'S NOT THE POINT. The point is: we have a specialized agency (many of them, actually) that hands out money for worthy research projects -- it's called the National Science Foundation, and it funds many, many worthy projects. May it long continue to do so; I've got no problem with Congress increasing the NSF's budget. The problem is that there are thousands of worthy research projects out there, and CONGRESS should not be deciding which ones are worthy of support and which aren't. That's the problem with pork and earmarks and the rest -- not that they don't ever do any good, but that the law-making process cannot possibly decide between the good projects and the bad ones, and will, inevitably, make those decisions on the wrong (i.e on political) grounds.

Paul Milligan (mail) (www):
The biggest problem is the secrecy endemic to Washington. Earmarks might not be so bad if they wre done 'in the regular order' like any bill or amendment - published, debated, and voted on with a recorded vote. As it is, with the system then invented for themselves of 'slipping earmarks in during conference mark-up', they get to hide what they're doing.

In the same way, Senators can 'blue card' a nomination, or 'object on behalf of a colleague' to a consent request, etc, and not have to have their name on their actions.
3.10.2008 1:15pm
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
The $5M project found 500 bears, so that's $10,000 per bear.
I wonder if this had been a market project rather than a government project, if somebody would have found a cheaper way to count bears.
3.10.2008 1:24pm
Javert:

I've got no problem with Congress increasing the NSF's budget.

So your ends justifies the theft of my means?

. . .but that the law-making process cannot possibly decide between the good projects and the bad ones, and will, inevitably, make those decisions on the wrong (i.e on political) grounds.


And NSF grants are not political? Government grants are by their nature political, i.e., based on favoritism and pull.
3.10.2008 1:30pm
Justin (mail):
At the end of the day, a $3 million project is a campaign stunt, not a real policy question.
3.10.2008 1:34pm
Adam J:
Do executive's agencies tend to be less political then the legislature about choosing which projects to fund?
3.10.2008 1:35pm
William Spieler (mail) (www):
Of course, THE POINT as you put it is also not what McCain is talking about when he's ridiculing the cost, not the process by which the expenditure was authorized. Considering that, I don't think you can fault the WaPo for responding to the argument as presented by McCain, not the argument of rent seeking (albeit indirectly).
3.10.2008 1:39pm
alkali (mail):
DP: I tend to agree in principle that federal science funding should be allocated by the NSF, but I suspect a study of this size would be above the NSF maximum grant amount. More generally, it's clear that at some level of cost Congress can't just defer to the NSF but actually has to decide for itself which projects will get funded -- supercolliders, decoding human genome, etc. (I don't know if bear counting falls into that category.)

PM: I tend to agree in principle with you as well, but I think the criticism is misplaced here -- the bear study wasn't slipped into the budget but was openly championed by Sen. Burns.

AA: It's hard to see how a market in bear counting could be established. I have a feeling the result would be, "For $5mm, how many bears do you want?"
3.10.2008 1:39pm
MarkField (mail):

The problem is that there are thousands of worthy research projects out there, and CONGRESS should not be deciding which ones are worthy of support and which aren't.


I thought that's exactly what Congress IS supposed to do. This is still a republic, isn't it?
3.10.2008 1:40pm
hlc:
The article doesn't even consider the potential political consequences. McCain is apparently conceding the bear vote to the Democrats in November.
3.10.2008 1:40pm
George Weiss (mail) (www):
wow this is probably the first pro executive decision anti elected official decision post on this blog i have ever seen.

agree with mark field-bad idea..lets not give non elected officials MORE power decide where to spend our tax money.
3.10.2008 1:42pm
government employee (mail):
As other commenters have indicated, I don't see the difference between Congress or a state legislature making the decision, and the Executive Branch via an administrative agency making the decision. Why is money spent on a project of questionable worth less offensive if it comes from an NSF grant instead of a Congressional earmark?

And why, pray tell, is research into bear DNA so important? In case a bear commits a crime and DNA will vindicate his innocence? I mean, other than scientists who specialize to an absurd degree, who really cares about this, and how is it beneficial to the public (i.e. taxpayers who foot the bill) at large?

If the government did not fund this specific project, would a private or corporate entity fund it? If not, doesn't that suggest it is not worth the money necessary to carry it out?
3.10.2008 1:44pm
byomtov (mail):
McCain is apparently conceding the bear vote to the Democrats in November.

Considering the recent perfomance of the stock market, that's a very serious blunder on his part.
3.10.2008 1:49pm
AnneS:
Meh. Congress can directly allocate money to unworthy projects one-off through earmarks, or en masse by creating grant programs with stupid requirements. The executive agency is still stuck distributing the money to underwater basket weavers, albeit underwater basket weaver who have beat out the other underwater basket weavers in a competitive process.

Full Disclosure: I have successfully applied for and administered earmarks and competitive grants for various public health programs. I liked the earmarks because they required less meaningless, costly hoop jumping that distracted from the mission of our programs. I recognize that in theory competitive grants are preferrable because they provide better accountability, but let's not kid ourselves. Many competitive grant programs provide only the illusion of accountability because the performance measures have nothing to do with efficacy and they consistently underfund evaluation.
3.10.2008 1:50pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
The $5M project found 500 bears, so that's $10,000 per bear.

Those were grizzly bears, and I'm not surprised it would cost a lot to get samples. That's a small number scattered about a large territory. The question isn't whether Grizzly bear DNA is not a worthwhile project, it's whether more or less worthwhile than something that didn't get funding. At one time high-energy particle physics ate up most of the NSF money because they need large expensive accelerators. Finally other scientists screamed, "How about us?" The big super conductor super collider project got terminated.

Getting back to grizzlies, I'm not sure that as a taxpayer I really care if the grizzlies go extinct. I don't think I would miss them. Obviously many people do care, but then they should fund grizzly bear research themselves. This is a difficult area of public policy. When is it ok to force people to pay for something that they don't care about, especially when the social benefit is minimal to zero? Some of these interests amount to a kind of theological pursuit.
3.10.2008 1:52pm
Jason F:
Paul Milligan and Mark Field are exactly right. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Congress drilling the budget down to as granular a level as they want. Leaving aside issues of whether a particular expenditure is within the Constitutional authority of the federal government, earmarks are, in theory, a good thing.

If Congress wants to appropriate $200 million for the NSF, they can do that. And how the $200 million will be spent winds up in the discretion of the NSF. Similarly, if Congress wants to appropriate $195 million for the NSF and $5 million for the NSF to be used to study bear DNA, they can do that too. And in that case, for that $5 million, it is the elected legislature who is deciding how the taxpayers' money gets spent.

Now, where I think earmarks are vulnerable to criticism is in exactly the place Paul Milligan identifies in his response. Many times, these earmarks do not go through the normal budgeting process, where members of Congress have an opportunity to vote on them. That becomes much more problematic.
3.10.2008 1:53pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
They cynicism levied on the NSF is more political than rational. While it's hard to believe, most government employees, particularly those at professional levels, do try to do their jobs to the best of their expertise and ability. I will defer to NSF to make better judgments about scientific issues than Congress will make.

Those NSF scientists, while dependent on Congress for funding, do work their best to get the right (i.e., scientifically accurate) answer. They are not beholden to voters because most voters do not have an adequate understanding of the issues at hand. Instead, those voters can and are stampeded into decisions based on factors other than the science: Alar, silicone breast implants, stem cell research... any of that ring a bell?

And while executive agencies are not immune to political pressure from the executive, complaints about that pressure change with whomever is today's executive. Congressional pressure, through budgets, is far more insidious as it is far less transparent.

While bears are not my thing, I don't doubt that the research is of value. Even the amount spent in this instance may be good value. But because the funding comes through a political vetting system rather than a scientific vetting system, it unbalances what should be an as-objective-as-possible routine.

I'll absolutely give more trust to a medical decision coming out of NIH than I will one coming from a Congressman with a bunch of activist constituents hounding his phone or in-box, in the same way I prefer a board certified surgeon working on me than a typical member of Congress.
3.10.2008 2:03pm
Anderson (mail):
Shorter David Post:

Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils...

Sucks to live in the real world, I know.
3.10.2008 2:04pm
HipposGoBerserk (mail):
It's also worth noting that he bureaucracy has ways of mitigating the impact of Congressional meddling - in the 1980s, a lot of NSF basic science research got rerouted through the DoD to take advantage of the huge $$ thrown in "Star Wars". To what may be a surprising extent (and I admit, my knowledge is anecdotal), I think the Congressional efforts at creating an SDI in the 80s resulted, primarily, in relabelling research, not reoreinting the direction or substance of research.

In this case - I expect that, to the extent any change in actual funded research resulted, it was just a to substitute the study of bear DNA instead of some other mammal; and the improved knowledge of biology (with the resuling improved understanding of the world with potential flow-down to improved medicine) is largely unchanged by Congressional action.
3.10.2008 2:06pm
cynical snob (mail):
I honestly believe that if most Americans could opt out of giving their money to the government for non-essential projects, they would. If only there were a way for all of these projects to be listed, and put up for a "vote" with each citizen giving his yes or not to his/her tax money being spent on the project. This would probably be unrealistic because there are so many government projects, but it would be interesting to see how people would respond.
3.10.2008 2:06pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I am unwilling to concede that the federal government should be doing much of what these grants and earmarks do. We keep hearing about how our government is deficit spending and we need to raise taxes, but so much of the government expenditures these days seem to be primarily designed to benefit some constituency, corporation, or individual.

The most egregious, I think, are the agricultural subsidies, going primarily to a small number of companies. But earmarks are right up there. For the most part, they seem to be money designed to get some politician reelected, providing nothing for the rest of us.

I don't really like giving all that money away through grants through, for example, the NSF, because the granting organizations are almost as susceptible to capture as are members of Congress. But at least there is some consideration of merit there, whereas there is none with earmarks. Rather, the later are just pure pork barrel spending.
3.10.2008 2:07pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I think that the Defenders of Pork are going to have a problem attacking McCain and the anti-pork movement directly. If it is pork, it is really morally and ethically undefendable. But, the solution is to put their money behind his opponent and make sure that McCain doesn't get elected.
3.10.2008 2:10pm
not a bear (mail):
I have a few friends in medicine who said that in the 90's, if you wanted to get money for your research, you simply needed to link it to AIDS in some way. Like magic, the money appeared. Most (but not all) of my friends refused to play this game. They didn't want to choose the "politically correct" disease at the expense of other diseases that were similarly implicated by the research.
3.10.2008 2:10pm
The General:
If you think that counting grizzlies has any national import (it's a national government, right?) then you should pay for it out of your own pocket or find like-minded citizens to do the same. Just don't force taxpayers to pay for this stupid crap that only benefits the people who get the government check.

Also, am I to understand that counting bears or studying bear DNA both constitute the regulation of "Commerce...among the several States"?
3.10.2008 2:12pm
Lively:
cynical snob:

Better yet, those states which take the pork expenditures should pay more federal income tax than those states which do not. Pretty soon citizens will stop yelling for more projects. The way it is right now, the pork recipients are getting a good deal.
3.10.2008 2:16pm
liberty (mail) (www):

I have a few friends in medicine who said that in the 90's, if you wanted to get money for your research, you simply needed to link it to AIDS in some way. Like magic, the money appeared. Most (but not all) of my friends refused to play this game. They didn't want to choose the "politically correct" disease at the expense of other diseases that were similarly implicated by the research.


A few years ago I was in a biochem lab, and it was breast cancer. We were studying protein reactions and integrins, mostly very basic research on certain enzymes and proteins of interest to the PI and whether they were expressed in epithelial or myoepithelial cells. Her primary interest was in these proteins and their pathways. She had to spin everything as relevant to breast cancer though. And it might have been - but boy did we stretch that research out of shape to make it sound relevant.

But, hey - people want their money to go to curing disease. That would happen whether its congress, NIH or private funding, probably.
3.10.2008 2:22pm
Allan (mail):
Earmarks good.

Pork bad.

Discuss?
3.10.2008 2:23pm
Qwerty:
They are not beholden to voters because most voters do not have an adequate understanding of the issues at hand.

On that basis, you should take every decision out of the hands of the voters and give it to some bureaucratic expert. Most voters do not have an adequate understanding of the issues the President will face once elected, so the President clearly should not be beholden to voters!
3.10.2008 2:45pm
autolykos:
"Let the bears pay the bear tax, I pay the Homer tax!"

Given that some lawmakers can't even be troubled to read the bills they sponsor (see e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rGpykAX1fo), the amount of faith I have that Congress, as a proxy for the interests of the American people, actually focuses on this stuff is slim to none.
3.10.2008 2:47pm
microtherion (mail):
McCain is apparently conceding the bear vote to the Democrats in November.

On the contrary: He's angling for the privacy conscious bear vote.
3.10.2008 2:47pm
WHOI Jacket:
So, research should be funded by whether or not I happen to live in a district with a politically powerful Senator/Representative and am on good political terms with them, as opposed to making an appeal to a organization of my scientific peers?

(On the Earmarks vs. NSF debate)
3.10.2008 2:49pm
Orielbean (mail):
This looks a lot like the judicial appointment arguments - your side has judicial activists, while my side is interpreting the Constitution as the framers wanted.
3.10.2008 2:49pm
CJColucci:
The only workable definition of "pork" is "money spent on someone else." Whatever is spent on oneself is, by definition, not pork. The abstract distaste for "pork" is always trumped by the concrete appetite for bacon, and the voters' well-documented tendency to reward politicians who bring it home.
3.10.2008 2:50pm
Oren:
Those NSF scientists, while dependent on Congress for funding, do work their best to get the right (i.e., scientifically accurate) answer. They are not beholden to voters because most voters do not have an adequate understanding of the issues at hand
Moreover, the NSF never decides to put a project in a particular state to satisfy some key Senator.

The biggest problem is the secrecy endemic to Washington. Earmarks might not be so bad if they wre [sic] done 'in the regular order' like any bill or amendment - published, debated, and voted on with a recorded vote.
Most Congresscritters brag openly about their pork and make it a selling point.

One of the underestimated reasons (gerrymandering aside) that incumbents get reelected so often (98% IIRC) is that senior members of Congress get more pork and so if you throw out the incumbent you have to 'start over' which can mean millions lost.
3.10.2008 2:53pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Earmarks good.

Pork bad.

Discuss.
Impossible, since earmarks are one type of pork. Pork is the set, and earmarks are the subset within.

Thus, you can have pork that is not a real earmark, for example, farm subsidies. But I don't see earmarks that aren't pork.
3.10.2008 3:12pm
Cato (mail):
Mr. Post:

You have convinced me of precisely the opposite of what your position happens to be. At least there is SOME accountability for elected officials -- there is none for these unelected overseers of these agencies. While they may be better positioned to make good decisions, they are also unanswerable and therefore unreliable.
3.10.2008 3:19pm
gab:
And while we're at it, could we eliminate the couple billion dollars worth of pork we're spending every week in Iraq?
3.10.2008 3:51pm
billb:
Cato (and others): There are laws on the books that regulate the way NSF can give out the money it is appropriated by Congress. Most of the professional staff at NSF are scientists who go to NSF for a 3-year stint and then go back to their regular doing-science jobs. It's seen as a public service. The review panels that review grant applications and review the larger awards via site vists are created ad hoc and made up of members of the scientific community who do not work for NSF (though they are paid a nominal amount for the handful of days they serve on the panel and reimbursed for their travel expenses).

The peer/panel review is required by law, and if the recommendation of a panel is not followed, lengthy and painful justification is required. A panel member who saw their recommendations ignored would raise holy hell.

The professional administrators and program officers at NSF are beholden to the laws and regs setup by Congress and NSF to govern the review process. They hold a public trust and are liable for their jobs and more if they fail to uphold it. Thank God they're not "answerable" to the whims of their majority constituencies about their decisions to fund X or Y. Where do you think the incentive to create earmarks comes from? (Hint: What have you done for me lately?)

Everyone that I have met at NSF seemed highly committed to NSF's mission and process. Sure, I've heard (and made!) complaints about some of the things NSF funds, but at least the process is out in the open, reviewed, and not hard-wired to funnel money to particular research groups. You can't really say that for earmarks.

Alkali: $3M is nowhere near the max NSF grant amount. We have a $59M grant (total over the 4-year life including $30M to buy a big computer). I think that anything over $5M (or something like that) has to be run past the National Science Board for its approval. They meet every couple of months or so.
3.10.2008 4:15pm
alkali (mail):
billb: As I indicated, I didn't know whether the bear study would have been over the cap. Thanks for the information. (I still think that it's inevitable that some projects will have to be individually approved by Congress, but perhaps the bear study need not have been.)
3.10.2008 4:25pm
Aultimer:
Those suggesting that it's better to have Congress approving these expenditures miss DP's point. Congress is voting on a highway or agriculture bill when they vote for something like this. The decisionmakers at NSF have a Congressionally set procedure. The accountability chain may seem longer in the NSF case, but it's actually connected there - no opinion on pork can be determined by a vote on the bill it rides.

If Congress voted separately on each earmark, it would be different (and entirely unwieldy).
3.10.2008 4:59pm
Smokey:
Adam J:
Do executive's agencies tend to be less political then the legislature about choosing which projects to fund?
Absolutely:
...giant turbines [San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom] wanted to put underwater below the Golden Gate Bridge... would generate power at a cost of 80 cents to $1.40 per kilowatt hour -- as opposed to Pacific Gas and Electric's 12 cents per hour commercial rate.
[source]

Yet despite the astronomical cost, Newsom still insists that he intends to go ahead with this pork-filled money burning project, while other projects are delivering energy at one-tenth the cost.
3.10.2008 5:06pm
Smokey:
[sorry, absolutely s/b "absolutely not."]
3.10.2008 5:07pm
Andy Freeman (mail):
> Those were grizzly bears, and I'm not surprised it would cost [$10k/bear] to get samples. That's a small number scattered about a large territory.

That's about what guided bear hunt costs and these researchers don't pay the license fees and the like that hunters pay.
3.10.2008 5:09pm
billb:
Look, nobody doubts that executive agencies given carte blanche by their legislatures are just as likely to fund boondoggle projects as the legislatures themselves, but, and it's a big "but", the NSF doesn't have carte blanche. The processes for giving out the money appropriated to NSF are governed by law and regulation. NSF employees who circumvent these procedures can lose their jobs much more quickly than members of Congress can be voted out. Everybody that I've ever met at NSF takes their role in this very seriously, to the extreme that we cannot even by our cognizant program officers lunch when their here. They even reimburse us for their share of catered (think BBQ and butcher paper not white tablecloths and waiters) lunches that we all participate in.

I think the science community takes these things pretty seriously, too. There's less of an incentive to be dishonest when you're only trying to keep a few grad students fed. I can see how the executive branch bidding process can get out of hand when a direct profit motive is involved (no-bid contracts in the DoD: I'm looking at y'all!).
3.10.2008 5:19pm
Allan (mail):
Bruce,

I disagree. Pork is actually one type of earmark.

Earmarks are any specific appropriation.
Pork is an earmark that does not go through the committee process and/or is added to an appropriations bill at the last minute.

My argument would be that it is appropriate for Congress to earmark money, but that it should be done using a process, so as to better insure against corruption (although there is no way to really insure against corruption).

So, generally, I would say that earmarks are fine and good.

But pork, i.e., one type of earmark, is bad.
3.10.2008 5:25pm
tcg:
Smokey,

The difference between the elected mayor of SF and a career man at NSF is pretty immense. It's easily as big as between the NSF guy and a US Congressman. While the mayor is technically an "executive", he's not an equivalent decision-maker to the NSF career guy. I'm not sure your example is relevant at all to the merits of pork/earmark spending vs. NSF grant spending.
3.10.2008 5:34pm
Cold Warrior:

McCain sees Pork where Scientists See Success; Candidate Criticizes Ambitios Bear Study


I'm glad I clicked on "comments." When I first saw this post I thought it was about a study of the rare Ambitios Bear breed.

Really, I'm not making this up. For a few seconds there I thought there was such a thing. I need to get out more.
3.10.2008 5:38pm
Brian K (mail):
CJColucci,

excellent post.
3.10.2008 5:42pm
Smokey:
Bruce Hayden:
For the most part, [earmarks] seem to be money designed to get some politician reelected, providing nothing for the rest of us.
That's the real problem, isn't it? Defense spending affects all citizens pretty much equally. Earmarks, on the other hand, shovel the tax money of all taxpayers into the pockets of a narrowly defined special interest, in a quid pro quo for votes. The problem is increasing rapidly and exponentially.

Taxpayers who are not the beneficiaries of special interest money [most of us, on balance] are the sheep, discussing with the wolves -- Obama, Hillary, and McCain -- what to have for lunch.

Who represents the average taxpayer over their money grubbing special interests?? Do any of them?

The system is badly broken because while most Americans are busy working, paying taxes, and raising a family, the political system has been thoroughly gamed by a minority that has learned how to stack the deck in their favor.

As the campaign unfolds, just watch the bidding for special interest votes at the expense of much higher taxes for Mr. & Mrs. Joe Schmoe -- who will get nothing out of the bidding, except a bigger tax bill.
3.10.2008 6:00pm
EIDE_Interface (mail):
I don't understand the differentiation between pork and the larger entitlement programs. To me it's all the same.
3.10.2008 6:01pm
EIDE_Interface (mail):
Smokey:

I disagree about the minority "gaming the system". By definition impossible in a majority-rules democracy. Just ask the average suburban voter and 50/50 they'll say they support the large entitlement programs which make up 80% of the budget. Arguing about pork is trifles.
3.10.2008 6:03pm
Smokey:
EIDE_interface:

I guess I didn't make clear enough that the minority in this case is the axis of politicians and special interests. This thread is titled, PORK. Entitlement programs such as social security aren't quite the same subject [not that politicians haven't gamed the system there, too. Your Social Security Account Number [SSAN] doesn't actually refer to an account of yours with money in it; that money has already been spent on lots of other things].

Sorry I didn't make clear which 'minority' I was referring to. It's the minority that conspires to raise our taxes, in return for zero benefit for most taxpayers. As pointed out above, if an extremely wealthy special interest like the Sierra Club wants to save some bears, or spotted owls, or snail darters, they certainly have ample means. Instead, they connive with "our representatives" to force open our wallets ever wider [and often based on trumped-up data].

Can anyone tell us when this gaming the system will end? Maybe it will come to its conclusion with the new XTRA-EZ Form 1040:

1. How much did you earn last year?

2. Send it in.
3.10.2008 6:49pm
ChrisO (mail):
It would be nice if someone realized that "defense" procurement gets pork several orders of magnitude larger than research science.
3.10.2008 7:04pm
Kazinski:
The biggest problem with pork is the corruption it engenders. There are quite a few Congressmen that think it is fair value to exchange a 5m federal expediture for a $5,000 campain contribution. To them it's like trading donut holes for dollars.

For examples of the real problem with pork see here.
3.10.2008 7:32pm
Smokey:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein uses her position of public trust to stupendously enrich herself by funneling no-bid contracts to her husband's businesses. She was forced into resigning her committee chairmanship when she was caught.

California is a community property state, so Feinstein is enriching herself directly by enriching her husband.

See, they've learned to game the system. And as corrupt as they are, what is ever done to correct the problem? Where is that branch of government that should be sending them to the slammer?

I note that Rep. Wm Jefferson, who was caught with $90,000 in $100 marked F.B.I. bills in his freezer, is still free as a bird.

What would have happened to one of us, if we were caught in similar circumstances?
3.10.2008 10:14pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
I think that there is an important point about this particular study that everybody seems to have missed: it was carried out by the U.S. Geological Survey, which is not eligible for NSF funding. In general, NSF does not fund proposals by other federal agencies. Insofar as it was appropriate for USGS to conduct this project, which as far as I can see it was, the funding had to come out of its own budget. This project's cost was about 0.3% of the total USGS budget, so maybe it could have been handled within the existing budget - I don't know how tight things were at USGS or how their budget process works - but insofar as they needed extra money for it, a special appropriation may have been the only way to get it.

While I too dislike pork, I'm not sure that this is a good example of it.
3.10.2008 10:19pm
Jmaie (mail):
I don't understand the differentiation between pork and the larger entitlement programs...

Pork = dropping a frog into a pot of boiling water. Entitlements = starting the frog off in cold water
***********

See *here* for details how a majority system can be gamed.
3.10.2008 11:33pm
nrein1 (mail):
I know I am late to the game, but my thought

This study has the potential to save the government money as the point of the study was to figure out how many bears there are. As they are currently endangered and there is some cost associated with that, if they are removed from the list (the study found more bears than they expected) then money will be saved.
3.11.2008 12:27am
Oren:
I note that Rep. Wm Jefferson, who was caught with $90,000 in $100 marked F.B.I. bills in his freezer, is still free as a bird.
In the long run, I think Jefferson is going to bunk up with the Dukester in Federal Prison.
3.11.2008 5:57am
Oren:
I disagree about the minority "gaming the system". By definition impossible in a majority-rules democracy.
You need to reread your political theory. A well-situated (and unscrupulous) minority that sits between two large ideological semi-majorities is uniquely positions to sell its votes on crucial issues outside their concern in order to milk both sides for all they can.

Granted, this is more common in parliamentary systems where the plurality-but-not-majority party must barter its way to a government (Shas, the ultra-religious part in Israel is a prime example of this, whoring itself out to anyone for religious funding and exemptions), but our two-party system also has the unscrupulous centrists that will horse-trade anything for a few million dollars sent back home to the district.
3.11.2008 6:07am
occidental tourist (mail):
DAVID,unlike CATO, you have not convinced me of the opposite of your propostion, rather I believed the opposite before you posted. Your template for this debate reads like the treadworn path to technocracy long proposed to be the fruition of the enlightenment by nutcakes like E.O. Wilson.

An aversion to pork in its less legitimate incarnations can be best accomplished by the very style of political contentiousness epitomized by McCain's complaint about bear DNA studies. While the 'bridge to nowhere' is the perhaps the best example of this political response, the idea that you, as a former wildlife biologist, think he is off the reservation is a suitable response although I remain unmoved - despite believing that Burns had quite suitable grounds for seeking such research that redound far beyond 3 million bucks to send guys chasing bears. (Which isn't to say that,if collecting Bear DNA were a more regular activity, that the market couldn't come up with a less costly approach).

As to the substantive, rather than political/procedural criticisms of pork such as this, I have to apply a more ambiguous interpretation.

e.g. THE GENERAL:


am I to understand that counting bears or studying bear DNA both constitute the regulation of "Commerce...among the several States"?


In the abstract an exceedingly fair criticism, but the subtext that neither your nor the POSTer seem to acknowledge is the gross invasion of individual prerogative already enabled under the comerce power you belittle by statutes that offend liberty in word and practice leaps and bounds beyond anything the Patriot Act could possibly envision

So Conrad Burns responds to the economic crippling of his state with an earmark for money to potentially demonstrate that the state doesn't have to be shut down and locked up in order to protect genetic diversity amongst grizzly bears.

I think that is a pretty reasonable response to the sad fact that anyone could think the genetics of grizzly bear populations gives some national prerogative to economically strangle a state. I can't fault McCain for looking for convenient seemingly bizarre pork for his campaign to highlight, rather I fault him for being a supporter of the technocratic unaccountable 4th branch spawned by such ill considered unconstitutional pap as the ESA.

But noone gets that, or they are glad that Montana is being made into their park so they are willing to turn a blind eye to constitutional infirmities in their open space shemes, so we argue about pork to study bear DNA as some kind of serious deciding factor in the presidential election. sadly, it might be the best we have to go on.

Brian
3.11.2008 11:54am