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Pork Barrelling

AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

For some Pork Barrelling is perhaps the most disgusting term in US Politics, nevertheless it is defined as the allocation of federal spending for projects specifically designed to bring money or benefit to an elected representative’s constituents.

Typically ‘pork’ will be public works projects such as airports, bridges or roads or agricultural subsidies. No matter what the actual project ends up being, if the project involves federal spending and an economic gain that is relatively limited it is generally pork. The Citizens Against Government Waste organisation published a criteria that will determine whether or not spending by the federal government is classed a pork.

  • Appropriation is requested by one chamber of Congress
  • Not specifically authorized
  • Not competitively awarded
  • Not requested by the President
  • Greatly exceeds the President’s budget request or the previous year’s funding
  • Not the subject of Congressional hearings
  • Serves only a local or special interests

Source: CAGW

There are countless examples of pork barrelling being attached to legislation in the US. In 2010 the Citizens Against Government Waste organisation, identified over 9,000 examples, and in 2006 pork projects reached a funding level of $30 billion.

Some notable examples include:

  • Montana State University: $740,000 awarded for research into weed control through the use sheep grazing
  • Big Dig High Project: Moved 3.5 miles of highway underground, initially supposed to cost $3bn, but ended up lasting 20 years and costing $14.6 billon, just over $4bn per mile.
  • Gravina Island Bridge: Also known as the ‘Alaska Bridge to Nowhere’, costed $398 million but never got off the ground.

The use of pork barrel projects is popular among congressmen because it allows them to use the projects as a weapon to fight for re-election. They can attempt to use pork barrel projects as evidence of bringing home the bacon for their districts.

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