February 25, 2008
By Robert B. Bluey
A congressional Web site devoted to spending reform may soon
fall victim to a nearly 10-year-old House rule governing online
activity. If the Web site is axed, it will serve as an embarrassing
example of just how behind the times our lawmakers are.
The Web site in question, earmarkreform.house.gov, was established with
much fanfare on Feb. 12 by House Minority Leader John Boehner. But
less than two weeks later, the House's chief administrative officer
told Boehner he had to remove the site. The office now says it will
review all similar Web sites, including Rep. Ed Markey's (D-Mass.)
globalwarming.house.gov, to determine their
compliance with House rules.
Boehner launched the earmark reform site shortly after House
Republicans challenged Democrats to place an immediate moratorium
on earmarks -- the practice in which lawmakers stipulate exactly
which favored company, group or individual will receive federal
grants or contracts. The moratorium is to remain in effect until
Congress reforms the out-of-control budget process.
The "offending" Web site focuses exclusively on earmark reform,
featuring links to news stories, press releases and a YouTube video of Boehner making the case for a
moratorium. Pretty tame stuff, actually. But in this day and age of
petty partisan politics, the Web site touched a nerve in the halls
The House's chief administrative officer, Dan Beard, approved
the domain name on Aug. 18, 2007. But only days after the site was
up and running, Beard told Boehner it would have to come down
because it didn't comply with rules regulating congressional
websites established in 1999 by the House Administration
The rules require that house.gov domains must "be recognizably
derivative or representative of the name of the Member or the name
of the office sponsoring the website." Furthermore, domain names
cannot be a slogan or imply an endorsement of a commercial product,
commodity or service, according to the regulations.
Boehner is protesting Beard's decision. The
earmark site, he argues, is no different in nature from globalwarming.house.gov, a Democrat-run Web
site that has been operating -- without objection -- since last
Boehner also thinks there's something fishy about the timing of
the shutdown order. After all, there has been a spate of recent
stories slamming Democrats' abuse of earmarks. Citizens Against Government Waste last week
named Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) its "Porker of the Year." And two
weeks ago, Taxpayers for
Common Sense revealed House freshmen accounted for $263 million
in earmarks; Democrat freshmen took home 90% of those pet projects.
In view of these developments, Boehner argues, Beard's decision
looks an awful lot like a "gag order."
Because the site launched just days after Speaker Nancy Pelosi
rejected the GOP's offer to institute an
earmark moratorium, Boehner believes the House majority is unfairly
exerting its control.
"The leaders of both parties in the House have discussed the
need for greater transparency and 'sunshine' in Congress,
particularly with respect to the process by which our institution
spends taxpayers' hard-earned money," Boehner wrote to Beard. "By
serving as a public clearinghouse for real-time information on
legislative efforts to reform the earmark practice in Congress,
www.earmarkreform.house.gov contributes to this goal and helps to
increase accountability in the use of taxpayer funds."
The chief administrative
officer rejected the notion that politics had anything to do
with the decision. Spokesman Jeff Ventura said the office was
reviewing all House websites for compliance with the nearly
decade-old rule passed by the House Administration Committee.
Putting aside the partisan fighting over earmark reform, the
conflict also focuses attention once again on Congress' outdated
policies relating to the Internet. Last year Pelosi and Boehner
both endorsed the recommendations of the Open
House Project, which devoted a chapter in its report to reforming outdated
rules governing congressional Web sites. Leaders of the project
encouraged lawmakers to establish new standards relating to
members' use of the Internet.
John Wonderlich, who oversaw the project for the Sunlight
Foundation, said the conflict over the earmark reform Web site
offers the House a perfect opening to update its rules.
"The Internet creates a new opportunity for members and staff to
serve their constituents creatively online," Wonderlich said.
"Congress does need to address real issues like maintaining IT
security, evaluating what Web use may imply official endorsement,
and enforcing the line between electoral and official
Regardless of the issue or cause -- be it earmark reform or
global warming -- Congress needs to get with the times when it
comes to the online activity. The Open House Project outlined
logical steps to increase transparency and give citizens greater
access to government. Pelosi and Boehner should dust off the
suggestions so situations like this one won't happen again.
Robert B. Bluey is
director of the Center for Media & Public Policy at The
First appeared in Townhall.com
A congressional Web site devoted to spending reform may soon fall victim to a nearly 10-year-old House rule governing online activity. If the Web site is axed, it will serve as an embarrassing example of just how behind the times our lawmakers are.
Robert B. Bluey
Director, Digital Media, and Director, Center for Media and Public Policy
Read More >>
Request an interview >>
Please complete the following form to request an interview with a Heritage expert.
Please note that all fields must be completed.
Heritage's daily Morning Bell e-mail keeps you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.
The subscription is free and delivers you the latest conservative policy perspectives on the news each weekday--straight from Heritage experts.
The Morning Bell is your daily wake-up call offering a fresh, conservative analysis of the news.
More than 200,000 Americans rely on Heritage's Morning Bell to stay up to date on the policy battles that affect them.
Rush Limbaugh says "The Heritage Foundation's Morning Bell is just terrific!"
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) says it's "a great way to start the day for any conservative who wants to get America back on track."
Sign up to start your free subscription today!
The Heritage Foundation is the nation’s most broadly supported public policy research institute, with hundreds of thousands of individual, foundation and corporate donors. Heritage, founded in February 1973, has a staff of 275 and an annual expense budget of $82.4 million.
Our mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. Read More
© 2013, The Heritage Foundation Conservative policy research since 1973