Thursday, March 11, 2010

Under Fire For Ethics? Go After Earmarks--Yeah, That's The Ticket!

News of Representative Eric Massa's townhouse tickle parties and groping habits apparently reached Madame Speaker's office in October--yet nothing in "the most ethical Congress ever" was done about it."

So now, the Dems have turned to that perennial hoary chestnut--the earmark--to demonstrate how ethical they are. Apparently, the Democrats will no longer be permitted to propose earmarks for "for profit" ventures. Not to be outdone, Republicans are have banned both for profit and not for profit earmarks. I'm sure to wake Mudge up with this one, but earmarks are not the problem people--the rest of the budget is.

Earmarks last year represented something on the order of $18B of a $1.3T budget. Yes--earmarks have gone to many ridiculous things over the years, and many of those things strain even my acceptance. But one man's pork is another man's job--and one man's pork is another man's basic research on critical enabling technologies that will enable us to fight better in the future. Oh, I know, I know--if the technology and the company were all that--they'd be in the base budget! Of course--yes, yes--we should in fact all line up and chant together how effective our bureaucracies are, and how completely they understand matters, and how responsive they are to changes in the marketplace.

Pork--for lack of a better word--is good (H/T--G. Gekko). Pork helps efficiently move resources back to the people who provided them in the first place (read: taxpayers, industry, small business), far more efficiently than if the process were left to federal bureaucracies alone. Can you imagine how much bigger DoD would have to be in order to study and vet all the technologies/ideas that come forward? Congressional staffs do this for them. How do I know? Because I have advocated for "pork" to Congressional staff. You just don't walk in and say "here's my idea and $2400 for your next campaign". You explain the need, you demonstrate the utility, you cite the other work in the field, you point to ongoing efforts that the work might feed--and then your idea gets crunched up against 45 other ideas that that Congressman's staff have already pre-screened as being worth looking at. They pick maybe 5 of those to bring forward and 2 or 3 actually make it into the bill. You want to hear a dirty little secret? Often times, DoD entities are working hand and glove with earmark seekers--desperately trying to keep critical technologies funded in the face of certain stonewalling within internal budgeting processes, knowing that the idea is important but not mature enough to make the Service cut. You want to hear another dirty secret?

I don't want to put words in anyone's mouth (Mudge) but if you think that the bureaucracies of the federal government are so efficient and effective in their technology review and budgeting processes as to render the earmark process completely and thoroughly without merit, that federal processes are so finely tuned that the relatively meager percentage of taxpayer money devoted to earmarks (remember--these aren't "transfer" payments--real people get real money to do real work) is an unnecessary expense, then I'd like to hear that argument. My faith in the feds is less complete than that, and I like the concept of another process through which small businesses can compete for R and D resources.


"The Hammer" said...

I'm a small bidnez man and I can tell you the best way to help us is to get out of the way as in lower taxes regulations. In other words, leave us the hell alone.
One thing that has always pissed me the hell off was SBA loans. Some dude who has never run a business in his life gets a loan and all of a sudden he's your competition. Of course he didn't earn it and was put in business so all the skills and lessons one learns along the way he hasn't a clue about, so he's in business till the cash runs out. He loses, we lose and I have the government funding my competition thanks very much.

One more thing. There's been a lot of talk lately about CEO bonuses. What about board members like Al Gore and Hillary Clinton? They sit on corporate boards pulling down obscene amounts of money and for what? They don't do shit! They're either window dressing or there for political cover. At least the CEO shows up for work.

SPWalsh said...

My comment to a co-worker this morning was that with Murtha gone, they had a good start on eliminating the for-profit earmarks.

Anonymous said...

At least part of the vetting process leaves much to be desired. You'd like to imagine that it's basically a poor-man's version of getting venture capital money, but in many cases these businesses have made themselves solely dependent on the government teat. Oh, but if I don't get funding this year, our company won't survive.
There's enough shit in there that it almost seems like a wash. Earmarks for university S&T programs and to match state investment is good, but earmarks that support big defense contractors or their subsidiaries are shit.

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