Pork barrel issue

Jump to an appropriations bill: Introduction It should come as no surprise that the dam burst on earmarks in fiscal year FY Congress had set the stage for a significant increase in every category of spending when the Bipartisan Budget Act BBA of was approved on February 8,

Pork barrel issue

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PinIt Instapaper Pocket Email Print Critics of public investment often suggest that, however strong the case for such outlays might be in theory, the realities of American politics make the proposals a bad idea in practice.

In particular, critics argue, efforts by members of Congress to obtain "pork barrel" benefits are likely to destroy any chance that public investment programs can be effective. Pork barrel worries are of two sorts. One is about location.

A second fear is that once a project has gotten started and jobs are at stake, it will be difficult to shut down a white elephant investment. The pork barrel objection is an application of what economists call the "theory of government failure. The suggestion was that it was an appropriate role for government to act to remedy such failures.

More recently, however, Pork barrel issue associated with the theory of "public choice" which applies economic models to the behavior of government began to argue that one should not compare how markets function in practice with how government performs ideally.

Pork barrel issue

For, it is noted, there are systematic sources of "government failure" just as there are systematic sources of market failure. Government action might still be unjustified, these economists say, despite the presence of market failure, if the costs of government failure outweigh those of market failure.

It would be foolish not to take the pork barrel objection seriously. Certainly, members of Congress care about the location of federal projects in their districts, and they worry a great deal about anything, including canceling a government project, that will cost jobs back home. And one can certainly point to public investment projects, such as the Clinch River Breeder Reactor in the s, where pork barrel considerations have been important.

The Pork Barrel Objection

Yet the pork barrel problem need not doom public investments to ineffectiveness. There are, in practice, important examples of government support for technology where pork barrel considerations do not play much of a role. The National Institutes of Health award large medical research grants, and the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency gives out large sums for high-tech research, with little pork barrel intervention.

Agencies throughout the federal government routinely award competitive contracts for providing computing products and services running into the hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars.

Whatever one might say about the quality of the procurement process that backs up those decisions and, in my own research on computer procurement, I have been quite critical of the processit has never been suggested that those decisions are driven or even influenced by pork barrel considerations.

The pork barrel problem is worrisome, but it need not be fatal, especially if one pays attention to the design of programs and institutions involved in public investment projects. First, in statutes establishing public investment programs, Congress should create an institutional mechanism for decisions about project selection and ongoing funding that keeps future congressional involvement with the specifics to a minimum.

Examples of such mechanisms include funding based on evaluation of competitive proposals by relevant agency officials using the procurement process, which is quite insulated from congressional intervention, or some version of peer review by nongovernmental officials.

Some will say that such a proposal for congressional self-denial is either utopian Congress will never do itor wrong it is undemocraticor both. But the proposal is not utopian.

It is already the model used in some programs of this sort. And, as a general matter, more frequently than one would imagine Congress has indeed been willing to tie its own hand in advance out of the fear that, if it does not, it will produce what congressmen know to be bad public policy because they will find it impossible later on to resist pork barrel considerations.

The self-denial mechanism is thus analogous to the dieter who locks the door in advance to protect himself against the temptation to raid the refrigerator in the middle of the night.

For example, Congress established a blue-ribbon commission to determine military base closings, whose conclusions Congress could then overrule only on an all-or-nothing basis, exactly because of worries about pork barrel objections to individual closings.

Congress has adopted automatic indexing for Social Security benefits, even though indexing takes away opportunities members would otherwise gain to take credit for annual benefit increases, for fear that the constituency pressures for irresponsibly large increases would be too great.

Furthermore, keeping Congress out of selection decisions is not undemocratic, since any self-denying decision about institutional design would itself be made democratically.

Indeed, it would be undemocratic to forbid Congress from creating such mechanisms.Also known as patronage, pork barrel politics generally is funded by the larger community but primarily or exclusively benefits just a particular segment of people.

Pork barrel spending and the intersection of money and politics extend back more than a hundred years in U.S.

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Pork barrel issue

In those cases, ideology and party affiliation matter more than pork barrel considerations. The higher the visibility of an issue, the more likely pork barrel considerations will .

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