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Project on Government Oversight

Stimulus Act "Lettermarking" at the Defense Department

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October 19, 2010

The Center for Public Integrity unveiled a wallop of a story on Sunday afternoon—dozens of Members of Congress who decried the Recovery Act, better known as the “stimulus,” were simultaneously sending letters to government agencies asking for a piece of the action. The Center got a hold of letters from the Commerce, Energy, and Transportation Departments. What they didn’t get a hold of were congressional request letters to the Defense Department. After combing through the congressional correspondence section of the Pentagon’s website, POGO discovered six such letters. A brief rundown:

  • A good chunk of the Georgia congressional delegation requested $50 million for Bell BioEnergy, Inc. of Tifton, Georgia for research “on the use of bioengineered bacteria in the production of biofuels from biomass.” The request came in two letters. Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson sent a letter on March 11, 2009. Five Representatives—Reps. Lynn Westmoreland (R), Jim Marshall (D), Jack Kingston (R), Sanford Bishop (D), and John Lewis (D)—followed with a letter on March 25, 2009.
  • On January 23, 2009, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) requested funding for hurricane protection systems and coastal restoration. Vitter wrote, “I am writing to express the need for increased funding of several Corps of Engineering infrastructure projects in the state of Louisiana under the Economic Stimulus Plan.” He also wrote that Louisiana has “$6.2 billion in ‘shovel-ready’ projects.”
  • In a February 3, 2009, letter, Rep. Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU) asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates to support “substantially more funds” for Guam’s civilian infrastructure beyond the $62 million included in the Senate version of the stimulus bill “in order for the military build-up [in Guam] to progress on time.”
  • In a February 18, 2009 letter, Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY) asked Gates “to give Ireland Army Community Hospital full consideration” in deciding how to spend the stimulus.
  • On March 13, 2009, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) wrote Gates to “urge” him to “direct money” for construction of The Dalles Armory in Oregon to the tune of “$17,023,000.”

POGO found three other letters regarding the stimulus, but they don’t seem to direct the Defense Department to spend money in a parochial way. Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) asks for “a prioritized list of projects the Department of Defense plans to fulfill,” but wants to know “what impacts this money will have on installations or projects in Alaska.” Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) suggests the Pentagon utilize small business research programs to distribute stimulus funds. And in a letter dated April 21, 2009, Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX) asks Gates about how members of the military can obtain information in Section 1001 of the stimulus bill, which “allows for homeowner assistance to wounded members of the Armed Forces and for assistance to military members permanently reassigned during the specified mortgage crisis.”

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.