Word has it that Homeland Security appropriators may allow earmarks onto their funding bills for the first time in the short history of the Department of Homeland Security. By ending this moratorium on earmarks, Congress would open the door to pork barrel spending-just as the 9/11 Commission warned. Earmarks would take funding from building a truly national homeland security system and addressing the highest priority risks and divert it to the special interests of individual legislators.
If House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY) and his Senate counterpart Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) lift the ban on earmarks, the result will be more spending that makes America less safe. That is a bad idea, and Congress should reject it.
When the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created in 2002, the Bush administration negotiated a ban on earmarks with Congress. This moratorium gave DHS the freedom to fund security priorities without letting political pressure skew its allocations.
But K Street lobbyists have not taken kindly to this state of affairs. Last year the Senate subcommittee received over 1,100 requests for earmarks, and the House subcommittee received nearly 2,000. Pressure appears to be increasing this year. Up to this point, appropriators have resisted the pressure and kept their bills clean. That may change.
Politics Versus Priorities
Even without earmarks, DHS is still struggling to ensure that the most important priorities are funded first. Too much money is being wasted as it is. An in-house review of the port security grant program, for example, questioned the merits of several hundred port security projects. In general, rural, less-populated areas continue to receive a disproportionate amount of funding.
The objective should be for Congress to make homeland security funding decisions based on risk and national priorities alone. The Heritage/Center for Strategic and International Studies report DHS 2.0: Rethinking the Department of Homeland Security concluded that there is "no funding formula that is based on risk analysis and divorced from politics." The current funding formulas guarantee each state 0.75 percent of the overall spending regardless of risk assessment. DHS 2.0 recommends the implementation of Homeland Security Presidential Directive 8, which would require "DHS to take the lead in rationalizing the funding of homeland security priorities." That makes more sense than congressional earmarks.
Making It Worse
Encouraging politicians and lobbyists to make sure that their special interest or locality "gets theirs" instead of allowing DHS to set funding priorities that reflect the best assessment of national security needs will make things worse. The worst possible solution would be to allow individual members of Congress to earmark their own pet projects. More and more money would be diverted from the true priorities to the districts of those with political influence.
Of course, lobbyists are salivating at the prospect of getting a piece of the $32 billion pie that is the Homeland Security budget. But don't be fooled. Congressional earmarking will not improve the prioritization of Homeland Security funding. It would line the pockets of lobbyists and actually divert more DHS dollars from true risk-based priorities. Congress should just say "no."
Keith Miller is Research Assistant in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies, and James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.