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New Report Looks at Return of Congressionally Directed Spending in 117th Congress

Washington, DC – Following a 10-year moratorium on the mechanism formerly known as “earmarks,” congressionally directed spending returned to Capitol Hill in 2021, members of Congress were once again able to submit funding requests on behalf of their constituents.

After examining the directed spending requests and approvals during the 117th Congress, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Structural Democracy Program released a new report, Power Restored: Congressionally Directed Spending in the 117th Congress and Recommendations for Improvement, which evaluates the spending during fiscal years 2022 and 2023, the new reforms governing the process, and a data analysis of recent spending trends.  

According to the findings, participation is robust and bipartisan. Eighty percent of the House, including 60% of Republicans, participated. While nearly all Senate Democrats made requests, Senate Republicans still lag in participation, with less than one-third making requests, leaving more funds to be distributed among their colleagues. Spending priorities have shifted dramatically from the pre-moratorium period, likely due to new restrictions. Military Construction and Veteran Affairs and Defense Subcommittee requests, which were previously among the highest, are now greatly outpaced by infrastructure investments through the Transportation-HUD Subcommittee. Overall, FY2023 direct spending remains at nearly half the pre-moratorium level, due to a cap based on discretionary spending.

As part of the reinstitution, several transparency and accountability reforms were implemented by the 117th Congress. BPC recommends that additional steps be taken in order to further enhance and improve the directed spending system, including:  

  • more user-friendly release of directed spending data 
  • more resources, training, and support at different stages of the process 
  • increase parallel eligibility of House and Senate accounts 
  • clarify more permanent mission authority for the Government Accountability Office 
  • improve distribution of directed spending in the Senate 

“The power of the purse is one of Congress’ most effective ways to shape federal policy,” said Structural Democracy Director Michael Thorning. “The bipartisan return of congressionally directed spending, within newly set parameters, not only helps members and their constituents, but also strengthens the legislative branch as a whole.” 

Read the full report.

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