According to a column in the Wall Street Journal Congress, in its wisdom, has decided to prohibit the ability of its Congressional Research Service (CRS) to publish reports documenting congressional earmarks, or targeted spending inserted in appropriations bills (aka “pork-barrel spending”). This is a bad decision.
The thinking in Congress must be that if they don’t report the existence of earmarks then no one will know what is going on. As has been documented time and again here we see an effort to shape political outcomes by manipulating the availability of information. In this case the incentives are not partisan, but institutional, as members of both political parties in Congress have a shared incentive to keep earmarks out of the public eye. Earmarks are often associated with irresponsible public spending (e.g., the Alaska “bridge to nowhere”) and are especially problematic in the R&D enterprise, as I’ve discussed here previously.
Congress is doing the public a disservice by seeking to aggressively limit information on spending that it makes available to the public. This behavior is likely to be counterproductive when at the same time several Congress committees are conducting useful investigations of the Executive branch’s heavy-handed information management strategies. In general, openness and transparency are good principles, and that is the case here as well.
Here is an excerpt from the WSJ column: