Spending earmark sends $100,000 grant to wrong coast

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When he earmarked $100,000 in taxpayer spending to go to Jamestown’s library, Rep. James E. Clyburn meant for it to go to the library in Jamestown, S.C., which is in his district.

But in the bustle to write and pass the $1.1 trillion catchall spending bill, Congress ended up designating the money for Jamestown, Calif. - 2,700 miles away and a town that doesn’t even have a library.

“That figures for government, doesn’t it,” said Chris Pipkin, who runs the one-room library in Jamestown, S.C., and earlier this year requested $50,000, not the $100,000 that Congress designated, to buy new computers and build shelves to hold the books strewn across the room.

The library is just one of more than 5,000 “earmarks,” or pork-barrel spending projects, totaling $3.9 billion, tucked inside the report accompanying the catchall spending bill Congress sent to President Obama this week. Mr. Obama signed the $1.1 trillion bill Wednesday, violating his own pledge to allow the public five days to comment on bills before he signs them.

The bill, which funds most domestic federal agencies for fiscal 2010, includes projects such as $200,000 to study elderly Irish immigrants in New York, $1 million to add plumbing to houses in Maryland and $487,000 to build office space so Winston-Salem, N.C., can try to attract businesses to a blighted area.

The most expensive items are military construction projects, and among the biggest is $26.4 million to build a fitness center at a Mayport Naval Station in Florida, requested by Rep. Ander Crenshaw, Florida Republican.

With no indoor pool at Mayport, search-and-rescue divers have trouble doing year-round training, and the weather in Florida is so hot that it’s considered dangerous to exercise outdoors during most of the summer and much of the spring and fall, Mr. Crenshaw’s office said.

Members of Congress are required to submit letters justifying each request, and rules that Democrats imposed this year also require them to publish those requests so the public can view them.

One of the more colorful justifications was from Rep. Adam H. Putnam, Florida Republican, who asked for $810,000 to fund a pilot program for school safety in Polk County. Mr. Putnam used psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to argue that safety is among the most fundamental of human needs, topped only by food, water and shelter.

“Educators and school administrators alike know that students who do not feel safe in school have difficulty concentrating in class and retaining what is taught and that positive student engagement in the classroom is a key factor in promoting student achievement,” Mr. Putnam wrote.

The program was awarded $150,000.

In his letter justifying the library project, Mr. Clyburn, a Democrat and Majority Whip, says clearly that the money is designated for Jamestown, S.C., so the error must have happened somewhere in the appropriations process.

Congressional staffers said typos happen and the library mix-up probably can be fixed by Congress letting the administration know the intent of the money.

But critics of earmark spending said the episode shows that the system is broken.

“It’s still an awful lot of money for a small library,” said Thomas A Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste. “It’s kind of typical. We’ve had our ‘discussions’ with Congressman Clyburn. It’s not a big surprise he would just double this without anyone even asking.”

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