Fighting Fire With Pork

D.C. stimulus boondoggle


After Congress earmarked a portion of the stimulus bill for fighting wildfires, angry lawmakers from Western states had to douse a plan to spend nearly $3 million of it in Washington, D.C.—a city that has no national forests. According to Sen. John Barasso (R-Wyo.), who wrote the amendment that nixed the appropriation, this marked the first time Congress overturned a planned use of stimulus funds.

The plan, developed by the U.S. Forest Service, was to send $2.8 million to the District of Columbia from the $500 million allocated by the stimulus plan for "wildland fire management." Instead of fighting fires, the D.C. money would have been used to repair the capital's public parks and watersheds as part of the effort to promote "green jobs." The package also included $90,000 to employ D.C. teenagers in "a green summer job corps."

The D.C. Department of Transportation's Urban Forestry Administration, which was to administer the funds, touted the program in a September press release, with director Gabe Klein arguing that "this is what the stimulus money was intended to do—to put people to work." Steve Coleman, the director of a nonprofit organization that was expected to receive the bulk of the money, offered a different explanation. He told the A.P. that the grant was aimed at improving regional forests, the condition of which, he said, "is directly related to crime."

Sen. Barasso wasn't im-pressed by such arguments. "The last major fire in D.C.," he told The Washington Times, "was likely lit by British troops in 1814."