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Power Restored

Congressionally Directed Spending in the 117th Congress and Recommendations for Improvement

The 117th Congress (2021-2023) reformed and restored one of the legislative branch’s oldest and most basic powers under Article I of the Constitution: the ability of individual members to direct federal funds to priority projects in their local communities. In 2011, through a series of formal and informal policies, Congress placed a moratorium on this mechanism, known as “earmarks.” Congress’s legislative capacities suffered since it established the moratorium, and the executive branch accumulated additional discretion over where and how federal funds should be invested.

In 2021, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees announced their intention to reinstate directed spending under a new system designed to foster transparency, accountability, and fiscal responsibility. Beginning with fiscal year 2022, members could submit funding requests to each chamber’s Appropriations Committee, which would consider and approve a portion of those requests before final floor consideration. The annual appropriations bills for FY2022 and FY2023 included directed funds for projects.

This report provides a detailed overview of directed spending during the 117th Congress. The report includes background information on the history of directed spending, information about new rules and restrictions meant to improve the process, and a data-driven analysis of the trends that emerged, with comparisons to trends in the pre-moratorium period. The data reflect the requests and approvals as published by the Appropriations Committees before floor consideration and final passage. The report concludes with recommendations for further improving Congress’s use of its directed spending authority.

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