Bush to order agencies to ignore some earmarks

President Bush will issue an executive order Jan. 29 requiring agencies to ignore any earmarks in authorization bills or committee reports unless they are debated in the open by Congress and included in a law.

“The people’s trust in their government is undermined by congressional earmarks, special interest projects often snuck in at the last minute without discussion or debate,” Bush said, announcing the impending executive order in tonight’s State of the Union address. “If these items are truly worth funding, Congress should debate them in the open and hold a public vote.”

Bush also said he would not accept a large number of earmarks in the future.

“Last year, I asked you to voluntarily cut the number of earmarks in half, and I also asked you to stop slipping earmarks into committee reports that never come to a vote,” Bush said. “Unfortunately, neither goal was met. So this time, if you send me an appropriations bill that does not cut the number and cost of earmarks in half, I will send it back to you with my veto.”

Along with earmarks, Bush is taking aim at programs that are not working or wasting money. He said he would recommend ending or severely cutting back 151 programs worth more than $118 billion in his 2009 budget request that White House officials will submit to Congress Feb. 4.

“Just as we trust the Americans with their own money, we need to earn their trust by spending tax dollars wisely,” Bush said. “The budget that I will submit will keep on track for a surplus in 2012. American families have to balance their budget, so should their government.”

The Office of Management and Budget found that Congress included more than 11,000 earmarks worth more than $16.8 billion in the fiscal 2008 omnibus spending bill, according to the Web site Earmarks.OMB.gov.

The Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education bill had the most earmarks with 2,439, while the Defense Authorization bill included the most money for earmarks at more than $6.6 billion.

The executive order will tell agencies not to obligate or expend funds from a nonstatutory source, including requests in committee reports, other congressional documents, or communications from or on behalf of lawmakers, according to a White House briefing paper on the upcoming mandate.

Administration officials point to the fact that the Supreme Court ruled in 1993 and again in 2005 that report language is not legally binding.

“The president decided that he needed to give the Congress a very clear indication of what he was going to do,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino in a press briefing with reporters. “The president will not go retrospectively back to the earmarks that were in the omnibus, but he will take this action for 2009 appropriations.”

Perino said the conference reports cause the most problems with earmarks.

“The best way to be able to deal with this issue would be for the president to have a line-item veto,” Perino said.

As for reducing the number of programs that are not demonstrating results, OMB evaluated all federal programs using the Performance Assessment Rating Tool and found in its final report card for 2007 that 78 percent of the assessed programs are rated effective, moderately effective or adequate, up from 75 percent in 2006. Of the programs assessed for the first time, 77 percent were rated as performing and 60 percent are effective or moderately effective, said Robert Shea, OMB’s associate director of administration and government performance, on Results.gov.


Shea wrote that 22 percent of all federal programs were rated ineffective or results not demonstrated.

Some of the technology programs that have not demonstrated results include the Homeland Security Department’s National Protection and Programs Division for Cyber Security, the Federal Communications Commission’s E-Rate program, and the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

Bush also repeated his call to continue to promote health IT and use technology to secure the border.

In a briefing sheet on the State of the Union, administration officials said DHS is operating three unmanned aerial systems along the southern border in support of border security operations and will launch an additional system this year.

The administration also said 48,000 companies are using the E-Verify system to ensure employment eligibility.

The Education Department also is working on a free Web  portal to help immigrants learn English, White House officials said.

In addition to calling for Congress to fully fund the military, Bush asked Congress to create new hiring preferences for spouses of those in the military when applying for federal government jobs.

2014 Rising Star Awards

Help us find the next generation of leaders in federal IT.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above