New database attempts to discourage road, bridge earmarks

Public will now be able to track projects submitted by House members

July 29, 2010

The public will be able to search electronically for member-designated projects submitted by any member of the House of Representatives in legislation originating in the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in the 110th and 111th Congresses, thanks to a new database the Committee unveiled on July 29. Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) announced that member-designated projects included in H.R. 5892, “The Water Resources Development Act of 2010”, which was introduced yesterday, and other Committee bills are now publicly available on the Committee’s website.

On the first day of the new Democratic majority of the 110th Congress, the House adopted rules to institute specific requirements with regard to member-designated projects: for each project request, a member of Congress must certify that neither the member nor his or her spouse has a financial interest in the project, and each committee report must identify any Congressional earmarks included in the bill.

In the 111th Congress, the T&I Committee has adopted a series of member-designated project reform principles to further transparency and accountability. For legislation originating in the T&I Committee, members of Congress must provide specific information on the type, location, total cost, percentage of total cost of the project that the request would finance, and benefits of the project; provide at least one letter of support for the project from state or local government agencies; certify that neither the member nor his or her spouse has any financial interest in a project requested; and post requests for projects on the member’s website.

“As T&I Committee Chairman, I have vigorously enforced the earmark rules instituted by the House, and today our Committee takes another step in its continuing effort to provide unparalleled transparency and accountability,” said Oberstar. “The new database enables the public to search project requests by the member’s name, state, Congressional district, bill, bill title, and amount. Each member-designated project includes the ‘no financial interest’ certification, and beginning with H.R. 5892, the support letter from the state or local government.

“Finally, we make copies of all member-designated project requests available for inspection in the Committee office. I look forward to working with public-interest groups to find even more ways to shine a light on the actions of our Committee.”

Although Congressional earmark rules do not apply to certain committee actions, such as corrections bills, Army Corps of Engineers Survey Resolutions and General Services Administration resolutions, the T&I Committee has instituted an additional measure of transparency and accountability. Under Oberstar’s direction, the Committee requires members to comply with earmark rules if the request is targeted to a specific state, locality, or Congressional district. For instance, the Committee required members to certify requests for corrections to high-priority projects that were included in the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users–Technical Corrections Act of 2008 even though the corrections did not involve any new funding.