Thursday, June 6, 2013

Bettmann makes the case for not using earmarks

Robert Bettmann, artist and arts advocate, makes the case for maintaining the short-lived practice of approving the budget without earmarking and lettermarking in Don't Let Earmarks Return in D.C. (a HuffPost op-ed).   The ear/lettermarking process, according to Bettman, denies competition for grant awards and "are an inefficient and quixotic way to achieve policy goals, and one could easily argue, represent an abuse of the public pocketbook."

Bettman pays much needed attention to a practice that is creeping back into the budget process.   In my view, earmarking was bad before and is equally bad now.   And it's bad for the same reasons I articulated in Bigger than the Bennett report in February 2010:

As interesting as all of the juicy stories might be, and as important as CM Barry’s transgressions are, what is more important to me is what is embedded in the comment Ward 7 CM Yvette Alexander made at the release of the report:   A lot of nonprofits serving residents east of the river rely on earmarks (go to 1:11:20).

What I believe is embedded in this statement:

  • For some organizations it is too hard to compete for funding; it is easier to get earmarks
  • Earmarks are less of a burden than regular grants or contracts
  • Elected officials make better decisions about meeting needs than grant managers
  • Elected officials can "tell" which organizations are good or worthwhile

There is still time for earmarks and lettermarks to be struck from the budget support act.   If you believe they are a bad form of budgeting, email Council Chairman Phil Mendelson.   But act soon; the second and final vote on the BSA is June 18.

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