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This process, known as phone- or letter-marking, has largely replaced the now-banned practice of earmarking — where lawmakers would fund pet projects by inserting the money directly into the funding or policy bills.

“Lawmakers can create these large pots of money, then go back and write or call the agency heads to ask them to direct the money to their pet projects,” said Stephen Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, another non-profit budget watchdog.

“If the lawmaker is a senior member of the appropriations or oversight committee for that agency, you can bet [agency heads] will pay close attention,” he said.

‘Phoney savings’

Republican staff aides from both committees said the money is needed to restore what one aid called “phoney” efficiency savings the administration is claiming in its budget.

“They just doubled the amount of time [they estimate for budgetary purposes] their buildings will last, cut the maintenance budget and called it efficiency savings,” said one Armed Services Committee staffer.

“These aren’t efficiency savings, they’re phoney savings.”

“In the end it’s going to cost more to do it that way” because buildings will need to be replaced sooner without the necessary maintenance, the staffer added.

Independent budget watchdogs, however, say lawmakers should provide more detailed guidance to the Pentagon about how they expect the money to be spent.

“In the current budgetary environment, the committees need to be more transparent about why and exactly how they disagree with [Pentagon] budget priorities,” said Laura Petersen, a senior analyst at Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Observers say that phone- and letter-marking are bipartisan practices. Although many Democrats voted against the House defense authorization bill, the senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, supported it.

He said the bill “provides our military with the resources and equipment necessary to accomplish their missions and safeguard national security.”

Officials have long complained about such additional spending, noting that budgeting is a zero sum game.

“When something is added to our budget that is not needed, we are forced to take out something that matters,” Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said this week.

“Deferring maintenance is a fact of life for businesses” in the current economic downtown, said Mr. Ellis.

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