Beaver Management, Parachute Museums, and Other Earmarks: What Makes Wasteful Spending?

As Congress continues to negotiate the federal government’s budget for this fiscal year, conservatives aren’t letting up their campaign against earmarks.

Lawmakers and conservative political activists alike are wailing that the regionally-specific federal spending projects are the hallmark of government waste.

Conservative Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma released his annual Wastebook today, which purports to highlight some of the most wasteful government spending of 2010, including earmarks. The report gives examples of over $11.5 billion in government spending considered wasteful, including a $60,500 earmark for a parachute museum in Dayton, Ohio, and a $350,000 earmark to refurbish a functional, historic clock tower in Rhode Island.

Meanwhile, after Republican opposition to earmarks managed to kill an “omnibus” government-spending bill last week, the conservative group FreedomWorks credited the Tea Party for compelling the Senate to drop the “pork-stuffed” legislation. The bill, which would have funded the federal government through Sept. 30 of next year, included $8 billion worth of earmarks that both Democrats and Republicans had requested. Some of the very same Republicans who requested earmarks in the bill decided to vote against it in the name of fiscal responsibility.

FreedomWorks highlighted some of the “wasteful spending” in the omnibus, such as $413,000 for peanut research in Alabama and $208,000 for beaver management in North Carolina.

With the omnibus bill off the table and funding for government operations about to run out, Congress over the weekend enacted an emergency “continuing resolution” to fund the government for a few more days. On Tuesday, when the emergency bill expires, the Senate will vote to end debate on another continuing resolution, which would fund the government through the beginning of March. The continuing resolution drops some of the significant spending items in the proposed omnibus bill, such as funding to implement President Obama’s health care reforms and Wall Street reforms.

While conservatives balk at the billions in earmarks Congress allots each year, others like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have argued that earmarks simply represent Congress fulfilling one of its main obligations: directing government spending.

And while “beaver management” in North Carolina may sound like a frivolous pursuit to FreedomWorks, managers at the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission say it’s a necessary and cost-effective federal investment. Beavers in North Carolina cause millions of dollars in damage annually by flooding highways, bridges, agricultural land and other infrastructure.

The Beaver Management Assistance Program (BMAP) depends on resources from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, state wildlife agencies and county governments, as well as modest fees imposed on landowners dealing with beavers, to mitigate that damage. In 2008, BMAP saved the government and landowners approximately $4.75 million in resources from prevented beaver damage.

“It’s probably one of the best examples of federal government, state government, and private citizen partnerships that I could draw attention to,” Brad Gunn, a biologist with the Resources Commission, told Hotsheet.

Gunn said the fact the federal government and private landowners, as well as local governments, all have a vested interest in the project makes it that much stronger. What’s more, the federal government already has a mandate to handle animal control on infrastructure, Gunn said, so arguing over giving the program federal money is something of a moot point.

As Hotsheet has previously noted, the entire debate over earmarks is something of a red herring, since earmarks do not create new spending, but simply say specifically how government budgets should be spent.

However, that hasn’t stopped 2012 congressional candidates from slamming their incumbent opponents for earmark requests, the Hill reports.