Committee urges transparency for earmarks

| 5/21/2009

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has received funding requests for 6,868 “high priority projects,” also known as earmarks, to be included in the next transportation authorization bill.

Committee Chairman James Oberstar, D-MN, recently set guidelines for the projects and the process, calling for transparency and for every lawmaker to show proof of support for the projects from their congressional districts.

Oberstar has called on the Department of Transportation to conduct a review of the projects to make sure they meet eligibility requirements – in other words, no bridges to nowhere.

The current transportation authorization known as SAFETEA-LU, which expires in September, contained 5,091 high priority projects according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Funding in SAFETEA-LU totaled about $3 billion per year for high-priority projects from 2005 through 2009, for a total of about $15 billion.

Project requests received by the T&I Committee total an unprecedented $136.8 billion.

“Obviously that’s a tremendous number of requests. It’s not necessarily surprising,” said Mike Joyce, director of legislative affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“It will be interesting to see how many of these are highway projects and how many will be transit projects.”

Joyce said OOIDA appreciates the thresholds set by the committee for eligibility and transparency. Projects are posted on individual lawmakers’ Web sites according to rules set by Oberstar.

Joyce said the size and scope of the earmark requests show that transportation is itself a high priority on Capitol Hill.

“That’s an argument to say we need to address transportation and highway funding in the coming year,” he said.

– By David Tanner, staff writer