WASHINGTON – Is a $500,000 federal grant to complete and equip a science center at Washington College in Chestertown an example of federal support for education, or an example of federal spending gone horribly awry?
That depends who’s talking.
“Monies like this aren’t unusual in the scheme of federal appropriations,” said Washington College spokesman John Buettner. While the school has not yet applied for this particular grant, it has received similar grants in the past, he said, just like other public and private institutions.
But to Citizens Against Government Waste, the grant is just one more example of wasteful federal “pork” spending, which reached $22.9 billion in fiscal 2004 for more than 10,000 projects across the country, both record highs.
Maryland got more than $155 million in pork, or $28.17 per person, 30th-highest rate in the country and $3 below the national average, according to the group’s 2004 “Pig Book.”
The yearly summary of pork-barrel spending across the nation was released Wednesday at a news conference that featured Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., two live pigs and a person in a pink pig suit.
“The obesity epidemic has reached the Hill. Bills are getting fatter and fatter,” said Thomas A. Schatz, president of the non-profit and non-partisan group.
The Maryland pork projects ranged from $30,000 for Crisfield Harbor to $42 million to consolidate Food and Drug Administration offices. It included small towns — $400,000 to the Frederick County chapter of the American Red Cross in Walkersville — to the big cities — $2.2 million for drug enforcement in Baltimore.
Not surprisingly, those who benefit say the 125 projects in Maryland are anything but pork.
A $1 million grant to Harford County for the Oaklyn Manor Project will continue a project to repair the town septic system, ultimately protecting the Chesapeake Bay, said county spokeswoman Merrie Street.
“There are a lot of things I would call pork,” she said. “This is not one of them.”
Supporters said the same is true for $250,000 to expand a technology-based mentoring program at the American Film Institute’s Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring by training teachers for the 4-year-old program. The program uses “elements of filmmaking to get kids excited” about their schoolwork, said Mitch Aiken, director of screen education for the institute.
“It’s not just about supporting a theater, it’s about supporting teachers in Montgomery County and other parts of the country,” he said.
To be classified as “pork,” items in the Pig Book must meet one or more requirements, such as being requested by only one member of Congress, not being specifically authorized or not being the subject of congressional hearings, and serving only a local or special interest.
McCain, a prominent pork critic, said those methods, especially in a time of war and deficits, make such spending difficult to swallow.
“It’s a cry out to reform the way Congress does business,” he said.
Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski said the projects are not added at random but must meet specific criteria. She said the projects derided as “pork” in the report are “investments that help build our communities and make a real difference in people’s lives.”
She was mentioned by name in the report along with Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville.
Hoyer, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, defended the funding, noting that large portions go to federal facilities in the state for work that benefits the nation. He said he is pleased to have secured funding for state law enforcement protection, environmental preservation, public health and transportation.
“While these projects have certainly helped the citizens of Maryland,” he said, “ensuring that our citizens are safe, healthy, and can get to and from their jobs (also) benefits our entire nation.”
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