Podcast – C&G’s “The Public Forum” on KQV 1410 – July 15, 2016

In case you missed it, here is the Podcast from our two minute drive time segment that aired on Friday, July 15, 2016, on KQV 1410, “Carl Perkins is Just Not Sexy…Enough,” by Aaron Grau.

Our next segment will air on Friday, July 29, 2016, at 8:12 a.m. and 5:12 p.m.

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at mvezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Today on “The Public Forum” on KQV Radio 1410

The Public Forum is a two minute drive time segment that will air every other Friday on KQV 1410 and will discuss current topics impacting Harrisburg, D.C. and the business community.

Today’s topic is “Carl Perkins is Just Not Sexy…Enough,” by Aaron Grau.  Listen this morning at 8:12 a.m. or this afternoon at 5:12 p.m. on KQV Radio 1410.

We hope you will listen!!!

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at mvezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

C&G client, Florida Aquarium in Havana

Cohen & Grigsby’s Federal Government Affairs practice helped the firm’s client, The Florida Aquarium, secure a rare and important role in upcoming environmental policy talks in Havana, Cuba. The Aquarium was the only non-national research organization to receive a personal invitation from the US Ambassador’s office and will participate in policy talks impacting the Gulf of Mexico, Florida coastlines, and the Caribbean Basin.

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If you have questions please Aaron Grau at agrau@cohenlaw.com our Federal Government Affairs Principal.

Podcast – C&G’s “The Public Forum” on KQV 1410 – May 20, 2016

In case you missed it, here is the Podcast from our two minute drive time segment that aired on Friday, May 20, 2016, on KQV 1410, “Reality in US Trade Policy,” by Aaron Grau.

Our next segment will air on Friday, June 3, 2016, at 8:12 a.m. and 5:12 p.m.

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at mvezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Today on “The Public Forum” on KQV Radio 1410

The Public Forum is a two minute drive time segment that will air every other Friday on KQV 1410 and will discuss current topics impacting Harrisburg, D.C. and the business community.

Today’s topic is “Reality in US Trade Policy,” by Aaron Grau.  Listen this morning at 8:12 a.m. or this afternoon at 5:12 p.m. on KQV Radio 1410.

We hope you will listen!!!

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at mvezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Podcast – C&G’s “The Public Forum” on KQV 1410 – April 8, 2016

In case you missed it, here is the Podcast from our two minute drive time segment that aired on Friday, April 8, 2016, on KQV 1410, “Policy Not Politics,” by Aaron Grau.

Our next segment will air on Friday, April 22, 2016, at 8:12 a.m. and 5:12 p.m.

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Today on “The Public Forum” on KQV Radio 1410

The Public Forum is a two minute drive time segment that will air every other Friday on KQV 1410 and will discuss current topics impacting Harrisburg, D.C. and the business community.

Today’s topic is “Policy Not Politics,” by Aaron Grau.  Listen this morning at 8:12 a.m. or this afternoon at 5:12 p.m. on KQV Radio 1410.

We hope you will listen!!!

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Higher Education Act Reauthorization – A Washington Surprise: Bipartisanship

Successful legislation amalgamates hundreds of ideas; whether punctuation should be a comma or a semicolon and whether the work is even necessary. Final products never resemble stakeholders’ initial thoughts. And, when debates are laced with partisanship, results are further afield assuming they develop at all. Amazingly, amidst typical vitriol, federal policy makers tackling the Higher Education Act’s reauthorization are walking a bipartisan path.

So far, the House of Representatives and Senate introduced a combined six bills addressing higher education issues. The Senate’s only bill, the Financial Aid Simplification and Transparency (FAST) Act of 2015, generated six committee hearings on topics ranging from campus safety to perhaps the most contentious, significantly reducing the lengthy Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) from a broad questionnaire to a two question post card.

The Senate bill also, among several other changes to current law, makes students automatically eligible for a Pell Grant if they or their families received benefits under a means-tested federal benefit program at some time during the previous 24 months.

In the spirit of inclusion and cooperation, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman, Senator Lamar Alexander, stated the House bills and additional/growing ideas and concerns, “will be looked at for possible inclusion in a new bill.” Moreso, a bipartisan task force led by Republican Senators Lamar Alexander and Richard Burr and Democratic Senators Barbara Mikulski and Michael Bennett is jointly reviewing the Department of Education’s college and university regulations and reporting requirements. The task force’s results may also be considered for a revised bipartisan Senate bill – this year or in the first part of the 115th Congress.

There is a lot to consider. The nation’s higher education system must adjust to new economic and social demands. Campuses must be safe. College must be affordable. Universities must be accountable. Synchronizing the ideas to accomplish it all is not going to be easy, but at least for this effort, we’re not saddled with partisan bickering or delays and the long road to a reauthorized and refreshed law will be more productive as a result.

If you would like to know more about the Higher Education Act reauthorization and even have a voice in the debate, e-mail Aaron Grau, Cohen & Grigsby’s Public Affairs Practice’s Federal Affairs Director, at agrau@cohenlaw.com.

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Animal Farm

The politics of animals is not Orwellian, but it is dogmatic. Washington, DC’s advocacy community swarms with organizations supporting zoos, aquariums, pet store owners, breeders, traders, importers, exporters, environmentalists, preservationists and researchers.

Set aside the agricultural interests and their Madison Avenue media campaigns

  • Beef! Its What’s for Dinner;
  • The Incredible Edible Egg; and of course
  • Got Milk?

were all underwritten at least in part by federal funding from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the cattle, chicken and dairy interests all have powerful lobbies in our nation’s capital.

The politics of animals is not limited to agriculture per se. The USDA also manages many non-agricultural animal issues through agencies like the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). For example, on February 3, 2016, the USDA/APHIS published its proposed rule (and request for comments) for “Standard of Care for Marine Mammals in Captivity.”

The proposed rule, at least in part, is consequent to the popular documentary, Blackfish. The movie tells the story of a performing killer whale that killed several people while in captivity. The movie’s official website, www.blackfishmovie.com, says:

This emotionally wrenching, tautly structured story challenges us to consider our relationship to nature and reveals how little we humans have learned from these highly intelligent and enormously sentient fellow mammals.

Politics, however, is never one-sided and the politics of animals is no exception. Many believe Blackfish is sensationalism whose message, though the proposed APHIS rules and new regulations, threatens scientific discovery and chills valuable education and efforts to compel environmental preservation. Sea World in particular, took exception to the documentary and how it is portrayed. Its official response, found at www.Seaworldcares.com, states:

We object to Blackfish because its two central premises are wrong: (1) that life at SeaWorld is harmful for killer whales and for trainers working with these animals, and (2) that SeaWorld has attempted to cover up the facts surrounding the tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010, as well as the history of Tilikum, the killer whale involved in that accident. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The lobbying on both sides has been and will continue to be heated.

The politics of animals covers issues like: environmental preservation, climate change, the RESTORE Act (the statute and accompanying billions of dollars stemming from the BP Deep Water Horizon oil disaster), coral acidification and restoration, poaching and ivory trade and even STEM education.

In addition to the USDA, federal agencies including the:

  • Department of Commerce (through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA);
  • Department of Interior;
  • Department of State; and
  • Department of Defense

All have vested interests in the politics of animals, their costs to the environment, and to the treasury.

Cohen & Grigsby is proud to do its part in these debates, representing the Florida Aquarium (www.flaquarium.org) in its initiatives to study and protect sea turtles, sharks, coral reefs, and sea grass beds. Our work includes:

  • educating policy makers on Capitol Hill;
  • program advocacy to the National Coral Reef Task Force; and
  • promoting the Aquarium’s coordinated research work with the National Aquarium in Havana within the Department of State.

If you’d like to know more about the politics of animals or Cohen & Grigsby’s federal work on behalf of zoos and aquariums, please contact Aaron Grau at agrau@cohenlaw.com.

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If you have additional questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

U.S. Department of Energy Funding Announcement

The U.S. Department of Energy recently announced awards totaling $18 million to six new projects across the country that it hopes will, “improve the resiliency, reliability and security of the nation’s electrical power grid.”

The Department’s announcement added that it believes the projects will, “enable the development and demonstration of integrated, scalable, and cost-effective solar technologies that incorporate energy storage to power American homes after the sun sets or when clouds are overhead.”

The Department noted that, “these projects are either led by a utility company or include a utility company as a key partner” and includes a $1 million award to Carnegie Mellon University to, “develop and demonstrate a distributed, agent-based control system to integrate smart inverters, energy storage, and commercial off-the-shelf home automation controllers and smart thermostats.”

Cohen & Grigsby congratulates its Pittsburgh neighbor, CMU, and looks forward to more advancement and from the region’s renewable energy and energy efficiency entities including those committed to the burgeoning Energy Technology Association of Pennsylvania.

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Energy Department Announces $35 Million to Advance Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies

Today, the Energy Department announced up to $35 million in available funding to advance hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.

The funding is intended to accelerate innovation in hydrogen and fuel cell technologies by supporting:

  • research and development;
  • early market deployments;
  • domestic; and
  • manufacturing

The Department also aims to develop “collaborative consortia for fuel cell performance and durability and advanced hydrogen storage materials research to leverage the capabilities of national lab core teams.”

If you would like further information, please contact Aaron Grau at 412-480-1809 or agrau@cohenlaw.com.

In Defense of Government

There is great value in understanding and engaging federal government.

It’s easy to dwell on government’s ineptitude and effortless to criticize and complain. Insults, jabs, scandals, mistakes, delays, even honest misunderstandings sell airtime.

A Senator’s misstatement or a bureaucrat’s ineptitude ring out amidst the din of day-to-day governing because they are exceptions, easy to pluck, spin, post and Tweet. So what about the din? What about the constant hum of government’s bureaucracy? We can complain there as well, I suppose. It’s not loud enough. It’s too loud. It’s confusing and since we don’t understand it, it must be bad or at least ineffective, right?

Wrong.

Consider the effect of cancelling the din. Turn it off and the silence will be deafening. Our ears will ring almost painfully when we realize the din; the day-to-day efforts of government help collect our trash, help give us clean water, defend us, power us, transport us, feed us, treat us, and educate us.

Yes, it’s easy to complain, but listen to the din and you’ll understand there is much more to appreciate than chastise. Mind you, I am not a Socialist. I’m not even a Democrat! (Perish the thought…!) But I am a pragmatist and after working on Capitol Hill, within quintessential bureaucracies like the Department of Labor, and then as a lobbyist (Yes, I said it, a lobbyist!) for almost 20 years with clients ranging from large aquariums to defense contractors to at-risk youth and disability advocates I can assure you government offers more good and more support and meets more needs than most care to recognize.

And, although it will always be tougher to seek out and leverage those benefits than it will be to complain about slip ups, delays, or red tape, taking the time try, to learn, to actually engage can yield benefits far beyond appreciating government.

Forget for moment government’s basic roles like the Coast Guard’s search and rescue. (Who among us is ready to call them inept)? Consider that those who quietly, day in and day out contribute to the quiet din beneath the raucous, press grabbing, finger pointing and “grid lock” routinely succeed. For example:

The United States Department of Labor administers the National Job Corps. It’s a burdensome and expensive task in large part because the program is residential. Its mission is to help at-risk youth improve the quality and satisfaction of their lives through vocational and academic training. Day-in and day-out Job Corps’ professionals grind through the challenges of teaching the hardest to teach; supporting the most reluctant; and from their classes producing graduates, skilled employees, focused taxpayers who otherwise may have ended up in prison or worse. Sure kids drop out of the program. Some fail. You may find an article or two about them. You’ll have a tough time, however, finding news about the hundreds of thousands of success stories. But for Job Corps, but for the DOL, but for government, they would never be told.

Does that sound too trite? Then how about the United States Department of Agriculture’s recent funding to over 1,000 rural energy projects nationwide? The money went to renewable energy and energy efficient projects that not only provide new rural jobs, but new rural power using fuel that would have become waste. The return on those taxpayer investments will be at least three-fold, even if some of the projects discontinue. On their own, the projects are too small too receive venture capital and too geographically disparate to get traditional funding. What financier besides government, can step up, take the risk, and invest the money?

And there is more – so much more. Federal contracts are a quiet, unsung, and critical part of our economy. They support research and development, minority businesses, and local economies. Government services at all levels assure our safety and our standard of living.

Is there over regulation? Yes, often. Is there waste? Of course, it’s almost inevitable. It is easy to spot and yell about and when it’s fixable, it better be fixed! But as we listen to politicians’ discourse and rhetoric about how they will “change Washington” and “improve government;” as they do their best to sell a new approach to do away with rancor and increase effectiveness, we should do our part too. Stop for a moment, listen to the din, and consider the effects of its absence.

Take a moment to realize that despite the inevitable waste an wrong doing that government by its nature is pragmatic, doing more good for society than bad; more than many Libertarians care to admit or even realize.

And if you want to parse the noise even further, dig into the programs and find the ones that can help your neighborhood or your company even more, call a pragmatic lobbyist. There are one or two of those out there too!

By Aaron Grau

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Podcast – C&G’s “The Public Forum” on KQV 1410 – November 16, 2015

In case you missed it, here is the Podcast from our November 16, 2015 show.

Our host was Aaron Grau with guest, Brian Kennedy, Vice President of the Pittsburgh Technology Council.

 

Our next show will air on Monday, November 23, 2015 at 7:00 PM. Our guest will be Dennis Yablonsky, the CEO of the Allegheny Conference.

We hope you will join us!!!!

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Tonight on “The Public Forum” on KQV Radio 1410

The Public Forum is a monthly KQV Radio Talk Show where hosts from our Cohen & Grigsby Public Affairs Team and various guests discuss current topics impacting Harrisburg and D.C. and the business community.

Our Host for tonight’s show is Aaron Grau with Guest, Brian Kennedy, Vice President of the Pittsburgh Technology Council.

We hope you will listen tonight at 7:00 PM at 1410 AM, KQV.

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

USDA Provides Funding for More Than 1,100 Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Projects Nationwide

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced significant awards for several rural energy interests across the country.  The USDA’s press release is found here.

Pittsburgh is quickly becoming one of the nation’s energy hubs, not only because of shale gas, but also because of burgeoning energy efficiency technologies, existing alternative energy companies like Green Mountain, and Westinghouse’s nuclear capabilities.

The USDA’s interest and investment in rural energy assets speaks directly to our region where 70% of Southwest Pennsylvania counties are rural and is a clear signal to developing and established energy companies that the federal government is eager and able to invest in their success.

Cohen & Grigsby’s Public Affairs and especially its federal government capabilities can tie current and prospective clients to the USDA’s energy resources as well as the Department of Energy’s, the Department of Commerce’s, the Department of Defense’s, and even the Department of Labor’s, which is developing strategies to augment the country’s “energy workforce.”

To learn more, please contact Aaron Grau at agrau@cohenlaw.com or 412-480-1809.

Lobbyists’ True Value

We’ve been talking about some complicated problems and lobbying the federal government to solve them. Surprisingly, it’s a step not many companies are confident to take.

Why?

Many believe lobbyists are “evil;” part of the “problem in Washington, DC.” Others see lobbying as too complicated, convoluted, or something that’s only for “big companies.”

Lobbyists are advocates. They help secure government resources including grants and contracts. They correct rules’ unintended consequences, establish useful guidelines, and assure equitable distribution of public assets. And their services are no longer limited to Wall Street, big business, or “a select few.”

Thanks to scandalous people like Jack Abramoff, lobbying’s public image is so bad practitioners use new labels like “government affairs” and “education and outreach.” Well before Abramoff and media’s sensationalism, however, legend says President Ulysses Grant coined the term “lobbyist” out of disgust and frustration.

Washington, DC’s Willard Hotel promotes the myth that President Ulysses S. Grant coined the term “lobbyist” in the hotel’s lobby. It’s said the president often wandered next door from the White House hoping for some quiet in the hotel’s grand foyer. When he was beset with petitioners asking for favors and jobs, he cursed “those damn lobbyists” who interrupted his cigar and brandy.

The story is not true.

The image of lobbyists as corpulent influence peddlers is equally false. Sure, there are a few old-school denizens still for hire and if you can afford them, they may actually put you toward the top of their coveted “request list.”

The truth is lobbyists play a valuable role in legislative and rule making processes. They provide policy-makers first hand information, represent concerns and articulate complicated issues that on their own would be misrepresented or never heard at all.

During an interview for an article in the legal text, The Regulatory State, one Congressional staffer noted, “lobbyists are part of open government and aren’t so sinister as the public image, but instead provide a way to know how [a] bill will affect those with a stake.”

Genuine and effective lobbyists are advocates who know government processes: legislative, contractual, regulatory, and grant making. They take the time to understand clients’ issues and know how and when and in what manner to make their (client’s) case.

They are effective every day; on Capitol Hill and among agencies; in small ways and large, representing non-profits, start up technology companies, small municipalities, large manufacturers, orchestras, researchers, veterans, artists, educators, law enforcement, coalitions of thousands and concerned groups of neighbors.

What can a lobbyist do for you?

By Aaron Grau

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Podcast – C&G’s “The Public Forum” on KQV 1410 – September 21, 2015

In case you missed it, here is the Podcast from our September 21, 2015 show.

Our host was Cohen & Grigsby Federal Government Affairs Principal, Aaron Grau with guests, Dr. Mark Perlin and Dr. Ria David, the CEO and President of a very meaningful Pittsburgh company, Cybergenetics. Their software technology can analyze otherwise inconclusive forensic data which gives a clear picture of crime scene evidence when two or more people’s DNA are mixed together.

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

U.S. Department of Energy Makes $172 Million Available

Last week, the federal government made $172 million available to tackle solar energy challenges, expand access to clean electricity and improve manufacturing’s energy efficiency.

Specifically, the Department of Energy announced:

Cohen & Grigsby has experience in tackling these opportunities and working with the Department of Energy, and Capitol Hill on behalf of its clients. If there is any interest in knowing more, please contact the firm’s Director of Federal Government Affairs, Aaron Grau at agrau@cohenlaw.com.

Tonight on “The Public Forum” on KQV Radio 1410

The Public Forum is a monthly KQV Radio Talk Show where hosts from our Cohen & Grigsby Public Affairs Team and various guests discuss current topics impacting Harrisburg and D.C. and the business community.

Our Host for tonight’s show is Cohen & Grigsby Federal Government Affairs Principal, Aaron Grau with guests, Dr. Mark Perlin and Dr. Ria David, the CEO and President of a very meaningful Pittsburgh company, Cybergenetics. Their software technology can analyze otherwise inconclusive forensic data which gives a clear picture of crime scene evidence when two or more people’s DNA are mixed together.

We hope you will listen tonight at 7:00 PM at 1410 AM, KQV.

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.

Baking a Budget

This past spring I wrote about Washington, DC’s gridlock and the role legislative tools like ‘earmarks’ can play to undo the stoppage. Congress, in a laudable effort to make government more transparent did away with earmarks some time ago arguing, among other things, that eliminating earmarked special projects creates a cost savings.

My retort was and is succinct. Bunk! This spring I wrote the money supposedly saved by eliminating earmarks is “folded back into” agencies’ budgets creating no cost savings.

One reader kindly pointed out that he and perhaps others were unfamiliar with “folding money back into a budget” and additional explanation is warranted. I agree.

To understand “folding money back into a budget” and why eliminating earmarks saves no money whatsoever, it helps to understand how a federal budget is “baked” at all.

There are three main ingredients. First, you need a revenue projection. How much money will the federal government have to spend in a fiscal-year? Of course that figure, like most topics in Washington, DC, is debatable. Depending on how you interpret countless (pun intended) facts, figures, expenditures, contract commitments, unspent funds, over spent accounts, tax cuts, sequestration factors, etc. etc. etc. you arrive at infinite possibilities. For now, let’s agree that creating a revenue projection is as much an art as it is a science and is a topic for a different day.

Second, you need the President’s priorities. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), a division of the White House, prepares the priorities by communicating with every federal agency to understand their priorities. Through another separate process (another topic for another different day) OMB synthesizes the claimed needs creating the President’s official budget request (Note, it is only a request.) presented to Congress, by law, by the first Monday in February.

Third, to bake a budget correctly, you need a Congressional Budget Resolution. That said, there have been more than a few years in recent past when there was no budget resolution or it’s passed long after the money is doled out. I guess in such years you sprinkle it on top; decoration.

A Resolution is different from legislation, but still runs through the traditional legislative process with a few more rules and requirements. And, you guessed it, discussing the details is better left to a different day! The gist is simple enough. It is an agreed to budget, developed by the House and Senate Budget Committees, considering as much of the President’s requested budget as possible. The House and Senate vote on the compromised budget and presto! The dough (yes, pun intended) is made!

And you thought your mom’s apple turnover took time.

The Budget Resolution delineates how much money each of the 13 Congressional appropriation subcommittees receives. In DC-Speak, the allotments are called “Section 302(b) allocations.” Think of the allocations as the 13 apple turnovers you’re about to bake from that bill ball of Budget Resolution.

The appropriation subcommittees each have jurisdiction over certain federal agencies, ultimately accounting (pun intended) for all, i.e. The Senate and House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations subcommittees are tasked with passing a law that tells those agencies what they will have to spend and what they will spend it on.

Earmarks (Remember the earmarks?) were always accounted for at the discretion of each appropriations subcommittee. They would decide what percentage of their 302(b) allocation to reserve for earmarked projects. There were “education earmarks,” “transportation earmarks,” “energy earmarks;” you get the picture. Regardless of the type of earmark lobbied, drafted, and included in an appropriations bill no earmarkable dollars were distributed outside of their committees’ jurisdictions. In other words, the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee could not draft an earmark using the Transportation Subcommittee’s money.

That’s important because when earmarks were disallowed, each appropriations subcommittee was forced to FOLD THEIR OTHERWISE DESIGNATED EARMARK MONIES BACK INTO THEIR 302b ALLOCATION intended for the greater good of the (fill in the blank) federal agencies.

The agencies get their piece of the pie (or apple turnover) no matter what. However, instead of Congress being able to tell the agencies how to spend a small percentage of the dough, the agencies decide how to spend all of it. There is no political influence. There is no grassroots influence. There is no community influence or input.

Simply put, your Member of Congress has less, if any say, about how tax dollars are spent in your Congressional District or State because the small amount of discretionary earmarked funding is folded back into the agencies’ budgets.

by Aaron Grau

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If you have questions please contact Michelle Vezzani at MVezzani@cohenlaw.com or the public affairs professional with whom you work.