NACo Releases Guide to Federal Earmarks

NACo recently released a guide to help county governments navigate the tricky world of federal earmarks. 

The National Association of Counties (NACo) released a guide to help county governments navigate the tricky world of federal earmarks. Earmarks are a small portion of the federal budget set aside for projects in individual Members of Congress’ districts. Members can request funding for up to 15 projects directly during the annual budget process. However, funding is competitive, similar to other federal grant programs, and requests cannot be for multi-year funding. Members have to submit earmark requests between April 27-29th, depending on the subcommittee.

A Very Brief History of Earmarks

Up until the last decade, the use of earmarks in the federal budget was a common occurrence. Around the 2000s, the practice became associated with corruption, leading to an outright ban in 2011. The ban on earmarks did not sit well with many in Washington and around the country. During the decade the ban was in effect, academics and practitioners alike argued that the policy did not limit corruption but “stripped power from the people and their representatives in Congress and made the practice more likely to be corrupted, not less so.” (Brookings)

According to a recent article in the New York Times,

“Earmarks can help members feel like they have a stake in the legislative process, in a legislative world where power is really centralized with party leaders,” said Molly E. Reynolds, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “They need some skin in the game, and earmarks — community project funding, whatever you want to call them — help members feel that efficacy and remind them why they came to Washington.”

In the early Spring of 2021, Congress opted to reauthorize the practice. FY 2023 will be the second year since reauthorization that earmarks will play an important role in the federal budget.

Check out NACo’s FY2023 Guide Federal Earmarks.

Read more about earmarks from The Brookings Institution. 

Read the New York Times’s recent coverage of earmarks. 

Read more about Congress’s 2021 reauthorization of earmarks from The Washington Post. 

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