WASHINGTON — When it comes to disclosing their earmark requests for fiscal year 2009, Tennessee’s members of Congress are playing it close to the vest.
Only Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., disclosed his full list of requests in response to an inquiry from the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Reps. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., requested no earmarks.
However, Rep. Davis’ office would not identify how much money is included in each of his 43 requests. He said not all earmarks will be approved by Congress and the amounts requested for each project should not be publicized.
Reps. Zach Wamp and David Davis, both R-Tenn., said they would put their funding requests in the Congressional Record as each appropriations bill is submitted.
So far, only the fiscal 2009 defense appropriations bill has come through the House. Rep. Wamp, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, has made $21.4 million in earmark requests.
The rest of the Tennessee delegation, including Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, both R-Tenn., and Reps. Bart Gordon, John Tanner and Steven Cohen, all D-Tenn., declined to give specifics about their earmark requests.
The office of Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., did not respond to Times Free Press inquiries.
Lee Pitts, spokesman for Sen. Alexander, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the senator received “hundreds of requests” from various groups.
“Sen. Alexander is going to make sure that Congress funds Tennessee’s priorities,” Mr. Pitts said.
Laura Lefler, spokeswoman for Sen. Corker, said, “We’re in the middle of the appropriations process, so there’s nothing yet to announce. But certainly, as we’ve always done, when and if appropriations are approved, we will publicly announce them.”
Earmarks are federal funding designated for projects in the home districts and states of members of Congress, and they usually are attached to appropriations bills, which often do not pass until late in the year.
Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, said all earmark requests should be available for public review. He criticized lawmakers’ unwillingness to disclose fully their requests.
“There shouldn’t be anything secret about it,” Mr. Schatz said. “This is the public’s money, and requests by public agencies for support should be public record.”
Current rules make disclosure voluntary before the appropriations bills are passed, though once that happens, earmarks are identified along with the requesting member of Congress.
Of Rep. Wamp’s earmark requests for fiscal 2009 that have been announced in the Congressional Record so far, the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., figures prominently.
Rep. Wamp has requested $11 million in funding for the nuclear weapons manufacturing plant, including $5 million for “routine maintenance,” $3 million for improving securityand $2 million to help modernize the complex.
The congressman also has requested $10.4 million for the Tennessee National Guard to replace a readiness center constructed in 1954.
Rep. Wamp, who has backed a one-year moratorium on earmarks and pressed for better disclosure, said his requests are down significantly from years past because of his growing concern over earmark abuse.
The most commonly accepted definition of an earmark is a specific project, contract or grant not requested by the president but inserted into one of the annual spending bills. Many of those bills often get consolidated into one.
Congress disclosed 11,234 earmarks totaling $14.8 billion in bills covering government spending this year, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.
“I have really boiled down Tennessee’s priorities,” he said. “Until we get these reforms, I am just doing bread and butter, basic meat and potatoes stuff for my state.”
Rep. Lincoln Davis’ earmark requests for fiscal year 2009 include funding for atmospheric science research at the University of Tennessee Space Institute, Army Corps of Engineers projects, water lines in various municipalities and counties, rural hospital upgrades and a new 51,000-square-foot readiness center for the Tennessee Army National Guard in Tullahoma, Tenn.
He said his funding requests are for “basic needs for the rural area that I represent.”
Rep. David Davis, who represents the state’s northeast corner, said he wants to avoid “monuments to me, bridges to nowhere, and hippy museums in New York.”
Still, he has made requests for projects, he said.
“It is my intention to try and bring some of that money back home for worthy projects... rather than let other entities spend it at their discretion,” he said.
Julie Eubank, spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, DTenn., said all of the Murfreesboro congressman’s requests are for “historic preservation, university programs, economic development efforts, and local infrastructure and safety needs.”