THE WHITE HOUSE'S database of congressional "earmarks" has finally come online (at whitehouse.gov/omb), and as proud Angelenos, all we can say is this: Enjoy the $397,000, Aztec Fire Fuels Crew. American Film Institute, ka-ching on that $1.24 million for "screen education." Cheers, Fashion Business Inc., for the 50 large the American people paid you for "workforce development and training." And L-3 Communications Ocean Systems in Sylmar? We don't actually know what leveraging "the existing TB-23 array design to provide a mission reconfigurable capability for littoral or deep water submarine missions" means -- but hey, if the U.S. government is willing to pay $3.5 million for it, it's gotta be good!
Our point is not to alienate any of these organizations, nor to disparage the goods and services they provide. It's simply to point out that not all pork-barrel spending goes for bridges in Alaska. Some of it goes to your neighbors. (A lot of it, in fact; California easily topped the other 49 states in 2005 earmarks.) Every federal boondoggle denounced by valiant politicians such as Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) is somebody's valued project.
This is what makes pork so hard to rein in. The growing uproar about earmarks is encouraging, as are improved disclosure mechanisms like the White House's website and a similar project being cooked up by the House. This page praised the moratorium on earmarks announced a few months ago by fabled porkmeister Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.). The House and Senate have both passed anti-earmarks bills this year, though neither version appears likely to hit the president's desk anytime soon, and it's unclear how seriously they're intended. (Coburn, an ardent opponent of pork, ended up opposing the Senate bill.)
Meanwhile, the simplest solution to the pork problem -- stop writing earmarks -- goes unexplored. And shady new avenues of pork are emerging, such as the growing use of emergency supplemental bills that include items for such emergencies as peanut farming and money for the 2008 conventions. Go ahead and rage at the faraway peanut farmer, but in the government-handout economy -- a world of concentrated benefits and distributed costs -- he'd be a fool to say no to that money, and his representative in Congress would be a fool not to deliver it.
The great political theorist Mick Jagger once searched for the true Kennedy assassin, only to conclude that after all, it was you and me. As we move toward the goal of full disclosure of earmarks, we may find the same culprits behind the scandal of government waste.