Monday, July 24, 2006

Secret Earmarks


In my previous post I noted that Congress has used secret budget provisions to shield the Administration's surveillance programs from public scrutiny, making it quite difficult to tell whether the Administration is violating the law. Today the Boston Globe reports that one Congressman, the infamous Randy Cunningham, used classified portions of the budget to shield his own pet projects:
Cunningham's case has put a spotlight on the oversight of classified budgets. Unlike legislation dealing with social and economic issues, intelligence bills and parts of military bills are written in private, in the name of national security. That means it is up to members of Congress and aides with security clearances to ensure that legislation is appropriate.

Cunningham used secret earmarks to "slip items into classified bills that would benefit him and his associates." He used the privilege of secrecy to shield inquiries into his corruption. But an equal danger is that members of Congress will fund secret programs without oversight, allowing the Administration to shield inquiries into illegal conduct. That appears to be what happened with the Total Information Awareness program. Congress must reform the way it constructs secret budgets not merely because they can be misused by corrupt politicians like Duke Cunningham, but also by overreaching Administrations like the present one.


And of course, when Congressional Democrats insist on more vigorous oversight for such budget items, Republicans will cry about the danger to the "national security." And they'll immediately rail against the Democrats who want to "weaken" the country, rather than Republicans like Cunningham, who actually did the deed.

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