Report Indicts DC Council Earmarks

Report Indicts DC Council Earmarks

It’s not called “All About Barry.”  The report by Robert S. Bennett  and Amy R. Sabrin is entitled “Council of the District of Columbia Contracts and Grants.”  Among the findings:

In the view of Special Counsel, the current form of Council earmarking is not a sound method for appropriating public funds. It effectively permits each Member to designate individual programs for funding on an ad hoc basis without prudently establishing spending priorities. Council Members, moreover, are understandably not equipped to fully and carefully vet individual grantees, and the legislative “logrolling” inherent in the earmark appropriations process inhibits thorough scrutiny of proposed grant recipients. The informal method by which grantees are selected clearly does not ensure that public funds go to the best or most effective organizations to deliver the intended services or accomplish the stated goals of the grant.

Competitive grant-making would make it substantially more likely that tax dollars will go to programs that are sufficiently well-managed and competent to satisfy the requirements of a competition, and that grant recipients are vetted by experienced grant managers prior to receiving a grant. The additional time and effort involved in awarding a grant through competition is worth the investment because it is more likely to result in the award of public funds to capable and effective organizations. It would also minimize the duplication and misapplication of funds inherent in the earmark process. (page 98 [page 101 of the pdf]. Link added.)

The other District Council members are expected to censure Mr. Barry, but the report’s summary (pages 12 — 13) should be a warning to them:

We note that deficits of professionalism and accountability were not unique to grants sponsored by Council Member Barry. Special Counsel reviewed documentation for certain other grantees, and the Office of the District of Columbia Auditor audited a number of grants sponsored by Members of the Council and found grant performance and accountability lacking there as well. The Auditor’s Report concluded “that sufficient internal controls were not developed to effectively ensure that District funds were properly managed, and accounted for, and used only for their intended purposes.” Special Counsel concurs with this finding.

In short:

Special Counsel … recommends that the D.C. Council eliminate its current practices with regard to the award of Council earmark grants.

Two additional points about the Council earmark process:

  • It undercuts the city’s legitimate competitive grants programs.
  • It wastes legislative time as well as money, and DC Council Members serve part-time.

More here, here, and here.

Past NotionsCapital posts about this issue here and here.

Image by Mike Licht. Download a copy here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht,

Comments are welcome if they are on-topic, substantive, concise, and not boring or obscene. Comments may be edited for clarity and length.

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One Response to “Report Indicts DC Council Earmarks”

  1. Mike Licht Says:

    UPDATE: The Washington Post editorial board agrees.

    Editorial, February 28, 2010: “A political addiction.”


    “D.C. Council Members Play Politics with Earmarks, Colbert King, Washington Post.

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