Lawmakers are notorious for tacking earmarks for special projects and programs onto bills. Until recently such earmarks were commonplace, and finding out how much was received and for what purpose took a keen eye and a little digging.
In 2007, Congress changed all that, reforming spending legislation by requiring a list identifying the type of earmark and the members requesting it. The list must also include a written statement describing the purpose and function of the earmark in question.
Additionally, evidence must be provided to show that these earmarks are valuable and appropriate uses of taxpayer funds.
These lists are available online for public viewing before bills go to a vote on the floor. This allows the media and voters to more easily identify and question how their federal tax dollars are spent.
As a result of the increased transparency, the total amount of earmarks was reduced by
43 percent in 2008.
While this type of spending reform is long overdue, it must be commended. It is a step toward increasing the availability and understanding of the legislative process for the people who hold it accountable — the voters. All divisions of government — state and local — should look to these transparency provisions as excellent examples of providing more regulatory power to the public.
If all government spending were made easily available to the public via the Internet, taxpayers could save billions of dollars. It would force officials to be more honest and sensible in deciding how to spend the public’s tax money. Both elected and appointed officials owe it to the public to provide accurate information regarding how their money is spent.
One might speculate that the tyranny of the majority could cause problems when it comes to funding important research. Though cynical skepticism might be appropriate when it comes to government actions, one must keep in mind that it is ultimately up to the taxpayer to protect his or her forced investments. Given this, if the virtues of the program are justified and explained in understandable terms, there should be little outcry against it — as long as it positively affects the public.
Increased accessibility localizes government and informs the taxpayer. An informed
public is a public that will reward prudent government decisions and scrutinize those that are unwise and self-serving.