WASHINGTON -- In this, the year Democrats and Republicans alike rallied behind promises of greater government transparency, finding the Kentucky congressional delegation's federal funding requests for pet projects, or "earmarks," is a labyrinthine process that can try the patience of even the most intrepid watchdog.
Take the case of Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, whose 22-page request is buried several pages deep on his Web site. Readers must click on the "On the Issues" tab, then "Economic Development and Job Creation," plow through an eight-paragraph biography that starts with his high school graduation in 1955, only to finally be rewarded with a link to his 103 earmark requests. The document is downloaded sideways and is unsearchable.
"He buried it on a page that didn't have anything to do with earmarks. Then you have to read all of these paragraphs. His was one of the hardest to find of any member," said William Allison, a senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit government transparency group based in Washington. "It almost seems as if he went out of his way to make it hard for people to find it, and if they did find it hard to search it because it's unsearchable."
Not so, says Rogers' staff.
"The congressman is in compliance with both the spirit and letter of the policy," said Stefani Zimmerman, Rogers' communications director. "Anybody who knows Congressman Rogers knows that his mission for the district has always been the same -- to promote job creation and economic development. Our funding requests for 2010, as every year prior, revolve around those themes, so the placement of our requests within that section of our Web site is both perfectly logical and simple to understand."
None of Rogers' constituents has had trouble navigating the requests, Zimmerman said.
"Not one constituent has called our office to raise objections or concerns regarding the placement of our project requests," Zimmerman said. "The only people who seem remotely concerned are out-of-state, unaccountable hired guns from so-called 'watchdog' groups who have zero credibility with the tens of thousands of 5th District residents who contact us every year asking for our help."
Comparatively, Versailles Democratic Rep. Ben Chandler's 33 requests worth $48.3 million are listed on his Web site's legislation section and are a breeze to find. However, one has to click through each request separately rather than the one, comprehensive and searchable document taxpayer watchdog groups say is easiest to navigate.
Chandler, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which is in charge of setting specific expenditures, requested $13.7 million for an ammunition maintenance and repair facility at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Richmond, $1.8 million to enhance public safety and prepare law enforcement for high-capacity operations during the World Equestrian Games in Lexington, and $5 million for a pilot foreign language education program in Fayette County public schools.
Finding Rep. Ed Whitfield's earmark requests takes a bit of probing. Visitors to his site must click the "On the Issues" tab, scroll down to "Economy," read a 15-paragraph first-person description of where Whitfield stands on the need for more jobs and greater tax relief, then click on a link that is wedged between that essay and a list of press releases.
Once there, the Hopkinsville Republican lists 31 requests totaling more than $530.5 million, including roughly $28 million for a chapel, multipurpose facility and physical fitness center at Fort Campbell and more than $144.7 million to "accelerate the removal of over 50 years of legacy waste and environmental contamination" at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.
Finding Louisville Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth's earmarks requests requires a bit of sleuthing as well.
The task involves clicking on his home page, then scanning the side of the page to find the "Constituent Services" tab, intuiting that the requests might be under "Grants and Funding," scrolling down the page past links of applying for grants and then clicking on the "View FY10 Appropriations Requests."
Yarmuth has 34 requests worth more than $47 million, including $12.6 million to expand a Kentucky National Guard and Kentucky Air National Guard facility in Frankfort.
Lawmakers weren't given many guidelines on how best to post their earmark requests, Allison said. Still, some were more easily accessible than others, and that raises questions
"In fairness to these guys, they're not web professionals," Allison said. "Next time, they should put the earmarks in one central place and the earmarks should be searchable."
ON THE WEB