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TBED-related projects benefit from congressional earmarks’ return

July 14, 2022
By: Emily Schabes

With the return of congressionally-directed spending — more commonly known as “earmarks” — for the FY 2022 budget, nearly 5,000 projects received more than $9.6 billion in such funding. The return of the earmarks followed a 10-year absence after the practice was banned in 2011. SSTI’s review of the spending data, which was collected by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) from the congressional appropriations committees, showed that projects related to technology-based economic development (TBED) were included in the funding.

A number of federal agencies that regularly fund TBED-related projects had a portion of their budgets subjected to earmarks. SSTI’s review identified projects at agencies including: Agricultural Research Service ($62 million for 5 projects); National Aeronautics and Space Administration ($22 million for 21 projects); National Institute of Standards and Technology ($163 million for 27 projects); and, Small Business Administration ($83 million for 128 projects). Examples of funded project titles that appear to have a connection to TBED strategies include: “Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing Innovation Equipment;” “East Palo Alto Small Business Incubator;” “Hydroponics Research Laboratory initiative;” and, “Diversity and Inclusion in STEM initiative.”

The data for SSTI’s analysis of TBED-related projects is taken from BPC, which translated the award lists from the congressional appropriations committees into a spreadsheet of congressionally-directed spending requests and approvals.

SSTI conducted a key-word based analysis of the project titles for each of the 4,975 projects. This approach found: 53 projects included the key word “research;” 36 included “STEM;” 24 included “lab” (covering both “lab” and “laboratory”); 21 included “science;” 15 included “manufact” (covering “manufacture,” “manufacturer,” and “manufacturing”); 15 included “incubator;” and, 11 included “accelerator.” This analysis was not mutually exclusive and cannot speak to the substance of specific projects, but provides an indication of which common manufacturing and TBED-related activities received the most earmark consideration.

The map below shows the total number of projects with at least one of these keywords in the project title.

Even though the return of congressionally-directed spending underwent some reform to help guard against earlier abuses and criticisms (i.e., the appropriations committee now plays a larger role in tracking where the money is going, politicians are held more accountable as awards and spending are made public, and there are greater restrictions on which projects can be requested and funded through earmarks), the return of earmarks has not come without challenges. The American Institute of Physics (AIP) noted in their FYI This Week newsletter that an official from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), “stressed that although the agency seemed to receive a significant budget increase, most of the money is earmarked for external projects with little relevance to the agency’s mission.” Under the new process, agencies must still make and monitor earmarked projects, regardless of administrative capacity or the project’s fit within existing programs.

Analyses by BPC contended that the elimination of earmarks disincentivized lawmaking and bipartisanship and, contrary to common belief, did not reduce deficits and spending. As the practice was under consideration for revival in 2021, the BPC argued that “earmarks can help catalyze Congress’ lawmaking process, which has, perhaps not entirely coincidentally, stagnated in the same period since earmarks disappeared.”

Congress again plans to allow earmarks in the FY 2023 federal budget, and the House’s appropriations bills include approximately $8 billion in projects.

The decision to allow earmarks, as well as the process for making and approving these requests, is subject to House and Senate rules and may be reconsidered at the start of the new session in January 2023.

congress, federal spending, tbedFile FY2022-Congressionally-Directed-Spending-BPC-SSTI.xlsx