Tracking Wild Pork

Stevens spending snafu


Last April two senators, Republican Revolution holdout Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Democratic wunderkind Barack Obama (D-Ill.), introduced the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act. The bill creates a publicly accessible database of congressional spending on about $1 trillion worth of earmarks, grants, contracts, and loans. It's pork on parade, conveniently indexed and made available with a "Google-like search engine."

Things were chugging along fine, with a nice list of co-sponsors including Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), when someone put a "secret hold" on the bill, stopping it dead. The secret hold, also known as a procedural hold, is a senatorial courtesy members can use to anonymously stall a bill they'd rather not see come to the floor.

It took a coalition of intrepid citizen-journalists to discover the source of the hold-up, but the culprit, smoked out by bloggers, surprised no one: Sen. Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican most famous for his Bridge to Nowhere, constructed out of $233 million in federal funds.

Despite Stevens' efforts, the bill became law in September. When finally called out on his use of the secret hold, Stevens said he was worried about possible bureaucratic snafus in implementation and wanted to wait for a cost-benefit analysis. That's an odd explanation, given that the Congressional Budget Office released such an analysis in early August. Others might see a different reason for Stevens' obstruction: Since 1999 Alaska's congressional delegation has brought home more than $3 billion in federal earmarks. The state has ranked No. 1 in pork per capita since Citizens Against Government Waste began calculating the statistic in 2000, sucking up $489.87 in pork per resident in 2006.