A congressionally approved website devoted to earmark reform is on the verge of falling victim to a petty political fight on Capitol Hill. The House’s chief administrative officer, Dan Beard, today told Minority Leader John Boehner that the site, earmarkreform.house.gov, would have to come down because it doesn’t comply with House Administration Committee rules regulating congressional websites.
Boehner is protesting the decision, questioning the timing of Beard’s decision and complaining that it amounts to a “gag order.” The site launched on Feb. 12, just weeks after a united House Republican Conference asked Democrats to join them by immediately placing a moratorium on earmarks until the process could be reformed. Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected the offer; so far, only Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) agreed to the terms of the deal.
Earmarks have continued to embarrass the congressional majority, just as they did when Republicans controlled Congress. Citizens Against Government Waste this week named Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) its “Porker of the Year.” And one week ago, National Journal’s CongressDaily reported that data from Taxpayers for Common Sense revealed House freshmen accounted for $263 million in earmarks; Democrat freshmen accounted for 90% of those pet projects.
Beard’s letter reverses a previous position issued by his office in August 2007, when the chief administrative officer gave Boehner’s staff permission to use the domain name. Roll Call contacted Beard’s office for an explanation.
A Beard spokesman confirmed that the CAO’s House Information Resources office did authorize the Web site domain name. But it has since been discovered that the domain name is not in compliance with a House Administration Committee regulation passed in 1999, according to spokesman Jeff Ventura.
House Administration regulations state that house.gov domains must “be recognizably derivative or representative of the name of the Member of the name of the office sponsoring the website.” The name of an official House.gov Web site also must not be a slogan or imply in any way that the House endorses a specific commercial product, commodity or service, the regulations state.
“It was determined the website in question was not compliant with the aforementioned rule and Mr. Boehner was asked to transition the content to another URL,” Ventura wrote in an e-mail. “The CAO is now initiating a review of all House URL’s to ensure compliance with traditional formatting.”
Aside from the partisan fighting over earmark reform, the conflict also focuses attention once again on Congress’ outdated policies on technology. Last year The Heritage Foundation, as well as Pelosi and Boehner, supported the Open House Project, which noted in its report:
Regulations governing members’ use of Web sites and e-mail should be updated to reflect the current nature of Internet use, taking into account the differences between old and new forms of communication, not just their similarities. The Committee on House Administration should convene a special, bipartisan task force composed of members of Congress, congressional staff on the Committee on House Administration and citizens, to better identify the intent of rules and regulations that are effectively prohibiting smarter use of technology on Capitol Hill. They should establish a new process, specific rules and new standards governing members’ use of the Internet.
These steps make perfect sense and are long overdue. The conflict over earmarkreform.house.gov gives lawmakers a perfect opening to start a dialog so these situations can be avoided in the future.