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Watchdog group finds smaller servings of congressional pork

By Joe Sterling, CNN
  • Citizens Against Government Waste issued its annual "Pig Book" on Wednesday
  • "Pork" projects were 10.2 percent fewer; cost fell 15.5 percent
  • Hawaii was No.1 in pork at $251 per capita, followed by North Dakota, West Virginia
  • Report singled out $6 billion in "anonymous projects" in Defense Appropriations Act

(CNN) -- The "Pig Book," an annual report detailing the excesses of pork spending, has served up its usual heavy-duty mockery of congressional excesses. But this year the meat spit is smaller.

The number and costs of congressional pork projects dropped this year, the Citizens Against Government Waste said in its "2010 Congressional Pig Book Summary," issued on Wednesday.

The 9,129 projects in the report "represent a 10.2 percent decline from the 10,160 projects identified in fiscal year 2009, and the $16.5 billion in cost is a 15.5 percent decrease from the $19.6 billion in pork in fiscal year 2009," the group said.

The nonpartisan group, which has been shining the light on how members of Congress use the earmarking process to steer money to projects in their districts, attributed the decrease in part to "reforms that were adopted when Democrats took over Congress in 2006."

Read more about "Oinkers" awards from the "Pig Book"

"The changes include greater transparency, with the names of members of Congress first appearing next to their requested projects in 2008, letters of request that identify where and why the money will be spent and the elimination of earmarks named after sitting members of Congress in the House."

Leslie Paige, the Citizens Against Government Waste media director, also said that "there's been pressure from taxpayers because earmarking has become a problem" and "we've got a really huge debt and people want to see some kind of restraint."

"We're starting to whittle away at it," she said, calling earmarks "unaccountable" and "walking around money" with a "corruptive nature."

But the group, which backs the elimination of earmarks, said "the transparency changes are far from perfect."

For example, it said the 2010 Defense Appropriations Act has 35 anonymous projects "worth $6 billion, or 59 percent of the total pork in the bill." Of the 9,129 projects in the report, there were 81 anonymous projects worth $6.5 billion.

We've got a really huge debt and people want to see some kind of restraint.
--Leslie Paige, media director, Citizens Against Government Waste

The "Pig Book" said Hawaii leads the nation in pork spending per capita, replacing Alaska.

"Following the exit of Alaska porker extraordinaire Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, the state slipped to No. 4 in pork per capita. Hawaii led the nation with $251 per capita ($326 million). The runners up were North Dakota with $197 per capita ($127 million) and West Virginia with $146 per capita ($265 million)."

Wyoming is lowest at $12.28 per capita ($6.8 million), followed by Minnesota, at $12.78 ($67 million), Arizona, $13.90 ($91 million), and Indiana, $14.19 ($91 million).

The report presents a list of humorous awards for projects and people it calls "Oinkers" of 2010.

For example, there's "The Thad the Impaler Award" to Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Mississippi, for $490 million in pork projects. The report said Cochran has the highest dollar amount of earmarks and the highest number of projects at 240.

A statement from Cochran's office defended his budget requests. "Throughout the appropriations process Sen. Cochran continued to advocate for meritorious programs that were omitted from the president's budget. Those requests were vetted to ensure that the funds were for lawful and legitimate purposes and would serve the public interest."

House and Senate members have said that projects dubbed pork have created jobs and spurred development and enterprise in their home districts.

To qualify for the "Pig Book," a project must meet at least one of these standards: It was requested by only one chamber of Congress, was not specifically authorized, was not competitively awarded, was not requested by the president, greatly exceeded the president's budget request or the previous year's funding, was not the subject of congressional hearings or served only a local or special interest.

Read the full report or search through the projects

The group said that for fiscal year 2011, House Democrats aren't requesting earmarks that go to for-profit entities and House Republicans aren't requesting any earmarks.

"None of these reforms are sufficient to eliminate all earmarks," the group said, noting it expects to issue another "Pig Book" next year.

But, Paige said, "we're going in the right direction."