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Harkin has ‘no excuses to make’ for earmark spending
U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, who was ranked 8th among senators for earmarks he won in the 2009 omnibus spending bill by a budget watchdog group, offers no apologies for his use of “congressionally directed funding” (as he called it) and says the process is much more transparent than other federal alternatives.
“I have no excuses to make,” the Democrat from Cumming said today during a conference call with reporters. “I’m very proud of what we did.”
Harkin said the amount of money in the bill that is earmarked is “about half of a percent” and that he believes that, for the most part, it does good things for the nation.
“I congressionally directed money in 1992 through the Department of Defense for breast cancer research, and we’ve been doing it ever since,” he said. “I’ve heard from the Institute of Medicine and others that the research that has been done there has led to early interventions, better health for women and early detection of breast cancer and saving lives than the research that was done under the [National Institutes of Health].”
There is a role for such earmarks, Harkin argued, noting that such funds are often placed into projects that “the vast federal bureaucracy won’t do,” and that they can target specific local problems in states and congressional districts.
“I do agree that it ought to be transparent, that we ought to have our names on it and be able to account for where it goes,” he said.
“In many cases these directed funds meet economic necessities in certain areas that then leverage more and more local dollars.”
Harkin pointed to the funding he has secured for the past 10 years for school modernization in Iowa as a prime example.
“That has leveraged money probably five to six times more than what we put in — leveraging it with local public monies and private monies,” he said. “Out of it you get nice new school buildings, technology and better classrooms.”
What needs more attention, according to Harkin, are no-bid contracts done by federal agencies.
“I had a hearing a year ago on the Department of Labor and there were -— I forget the exact figure — but several hundred million dollars that had gone out under Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao on no-bid contracts,” he said.
When Harkin directed a federal oversight agency to look into the contracts, it was discovered that the contractors had not done what they were hired to do and, according to Harkin, “didn’t really do anything. …
“At least we are transparent,” he said. “You can see where it is going. But on a lot of these non-bid contracts that go through the executive branch, no one knows what they are doing. We have no transparency there.”