The other side of earmark funding

Helena Independent Record

by Pat Dudley and Ray Rogers

Recently, a great deal of attention has been focused on the portion of Federal Appropriations referred to as "earmarks." Unfortunately, an extremely destructive and highly inaccurate general characterization of all these funding awards as "pork" has not only been erroneously propagated upon the American public but has sadly been adopted as a legislative position by many Members of Congress, a position that if allowed to go unchallenged has the potential of eliminating an enormously valuable mechanism of funding for thousands of extremely worthwhile projects.

Time and time again the highly dangerous nature of a group-think mentality based upon broad, overly-generalized characterizations, has been proven to exist. Regrettably, many Members of Congress are now attempting to convince the majority of Congress and the American public that there is suddenly some type of newfound wisdom in taking a path of action that is based upon broad, inaccurate characterizations. Sadly, they have gained considerable momentum in convincing the public that the elimination of earmark funding, which accounts for less than 0.2 percent of the overall federal budget, is somehow a meaningful and significant step towards reducing our overall federal budget deficit. Unfortunately, what America stands to lose by not supporting this mechanism is being totally lost in all the rhetoric.

Granted, one cannot ignore the fact that examples of "pork" within the history of the earmark process can be identified. These examples, however, have become the sole focal point of the anti-pork rhetoric being promulgated in Washington and throughout the country. Grossly ignored by those advocating the elimination of earmarks is the great strides that Congress has made in making the Appropriations process more transparent and accountable. Grossly ignored are the thousands and thousands of worthwhile projects that the Appropriations process has funded over the years. Ignored are the countless social, infrastructure and public health services that are provided as a result of this funding. Ignored are the research projects that advance science and technology and keep America safe, strong and competitive in a global marketplace. Ignored are the thousands of jobs added to the economy because of earmark funding. Ignored are the benefits to our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan from the technologies developed through earmarks. Ignored are the positive economic and social impacts of earmark funding on rural states like Montana.

Tried and true wisdom is often wrapped within some very simple sayings that have survived throughout the years. One would only hope that the life experiences of Members of Congress would allow them to embrace the wisdom found within the old adage of "not throwing the baby out with the bathwater." This, however, does not seem to be the case as many Members of Congress are poised to do exactly what the old adage warns against.

As a recipient of a 2010 appropriation, the National Center for Health Care Informatics can speak first hand to the diligence, completeness and transparency of the earmark application process that we participated in through our Montana senators as well as the high degree of accountability to which we are now being held by our program and contract officers within the Department of Defense. Our particular earmark is funding the development of simulation training technologies for the United States Air Force pararescuemen, a project intended to enhance the medical/rescue capabilities of these USAF Special Operations Forces. Additionally, the technologies being developed have great potential for cross applicability into rural healthcare where they could also serve an invaluable role of enhancing the clinical skills of rural healthcare professionals.

We seriously doubt that any conversation with the pararescuemen or the troops they serve would include a characterization of our appropriation as frivolous, meaningless or "pork." We appreciate the support that Sens. Tester and Baucus have given to our organization in obtaining our earmark funding to make our project a reality. We also applaud their current efforts to maintain this valuable mechanism of funding for thousands of equally worthwhile projects.

Pat Dudley is president and Ray Rogers is CEO of the National Center for Health Care Informatics in Butte.