The Administrative Costs of Congressional Earmarking: The Case of the Office of Naval Research


James D. Savage is a professor in the Department of Politics at the University of Virginia and a visiting professor at the Naval Post Graduate School. He is the author of Making the EMU: The Politics of Budgetary Surveillance and the Enforcement of Maastricht (Oxford University Press, 2005); Funding Science in America: Congress, Universities, and the Politics of the Academic Pork Barrel (Cambridge University Press, 1999); and Balanced Budgets and American Politics (Cornell University Press, 1988).


Discussions about congressional earmarking often focus on their direct costs in the federal government's appropriations bills. This article shows that this conventional view neglects the administrative costs of earmarking by examining the extensive transaction and opportunity costs that come with the political, budgetary, and programmatic management of these earmarked projects in Congress and in the Office of Naval Research. One policy conclusion from this study is that the executive branch should make these costs transparent, as they remain largely hidden from public discussion and the consideration of the federal budget.