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Holding the Government Accountable

Sept. 11, 2001, Congressional Pork Rises to New Heights

The long-running joke on Capitol Hill is that there are two things one should never see in the making: sausage and legislation. The story of “pork barrel politics” in Congress is not new. But in a new book, “Mr. Smith is Dead: No One Stands in the Way as Congress Laces Post-Sept. 11 Defense Bills with Pork,” former Senate Budget Committee staffer Winslow T. Wheeler argues that the situation since the terrorist attacks of last year has simply gotten out of control.

With the defense budget on the rise as the United States fights the war on terror and gears up for a possible battle with Iraq, the level of unnecessary spending stuffed into the Pentagon’s budget has reached dangerous new heights. Wheeler, a visiting fellow at the Center for Defense Information, argues that not only are members of Congress raiding the federal treasury, however, they are also wrenching money away from U.S. combat forces at the very moment troops are being sent off to war. This is the untold story of defense budget pork, and the truly insidious aspect: funds to plump up members’ pet projects – such as creating a new specimen storage facility for the Smithsonian Institution and mapping coral reefs near Hawaii, both included in the fiscal year (FY) 2003 defense budget bill – are actually enacted at the expense of real military requirements, such as training, spare parts and weapons maintenance.

Mr. Smith is Dead includes two essays by Wheeler detailing how the defense budget sausage factory works – details he gathered during his many years on Capitol Hill. The first essay, of the same title, was published by Wheeler under the pen name Spartacus, which he used regularly in critiquing congressional budget activities. The second essay, The Sum of All Peers, traces Senate action on the FY 2003 defense bill in the months after Mr. Smith was penned, and an excerpt of the essay was first published in the Dec. 9, 2002, issue of Government Executive.

Wheeler resigned in June from his job as senior analyst on the Budget Committee for Sen. Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M., under fire for his writings as Spartacus, and is now advising CDI on budget-related issues.