Who knew that studying had become a national emergency? At least Congress thinks so.
The $50.7 billion "emergency" spending bill that the House passed this week to immediately aid the recovery from Hurricane Sandy's devastation is larded down with tens of millions of dollars for federal agencies to conduct future studies, hardly the stuff that's going to help long-suffering Northeast residents right now.
Take for instance the provision that gave the Army Corps of Engineers $19.5 million to conduct, "at full Federal expense, a comprehensive study to address the flood risks of vulnerable coastal populations in areas impacted by Hurricane Sandy."
There's another $500,000 the Corps got to conduct an "evaluation of the performance of existing projects constructed by the Corps and damaged as a consequence of Hurricane Sandy for the purposes of determining their effectiveness and making recommendations for improvements to such projects." The Interior Department's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement got $3 million for "oil spill research," and private weather researchers got tens of millions more.
Worthy causes perhaps, but not projects that are going to bring relief immediately, which is supposed to be the real purpose when Congress passes an emergency disaster spending bill.
In fact, two-thirds of the money lawmakers approved this week won't even be spent in the next two years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And that suggests to many fiscal watchdogs that the funds could be set aside through the normal appropriations process, and not an emergency bill.
"This bill is supposed to be about Sandy recovery, but sadly some funding is a cynical attempt to take advantage of the emergency to fund projects that should be considered in the normal appropriations process," the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense wrote in a letter to lawmakers.
Review the entire 110-page bill passed by Congress this week and you'll discover that studious government engineers aren't the only beneficiaries of the Sandy relief legislation, either.
FBI agents, whose job it is to investigate crimes and not hurricanes, got $10 million in extra money for salaries and expenses. AMTRAK, the financially struggling national passenger railroad, got a healthy $86 million for a nebulous project described only as "infrastructure recovery and resiliency."
And the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, better known as the weather forecasting agency NOAA, enjoyed some of the biggest largesse from Congress. It essentially got a healthy equipment upgrade out of Sandy's suffering, including $44.5 million for reconnaissance aircraft, $8.5 milion for "improvements to weather forecasting equipment" and supercomputers, $13 million for a National Weather Service ground readiness project and $111 milllion for weather satellites.
NOAA also got a healthy dose of long-term money certain to excite the lab coat crowd. The bill set aside $50 million for laboratories and institutes for "research activities associated with sustained observations weather research programs, and ocean and coastal research."
And therein lies the truth about emergency disaster spending. After decades of experience, federal agencies have mastered the art of using the suffering of storm victims to pad their budgets or fund pet projects that should be part of their normal budget requests to Congress.
For creating an emergency spending process and legislation that brought relief to government bureaucrats in the name of helping Sandy's victims, we award this week's Golden Hammer to the entire federal government and its co-conspirators in spending in Congress.