Politicians are famous (infamous, some would say) for setting aside billions of federal taxpayer dollars each year to bankroll pet projects in their home districts. Now it's possible to map precisely where at least some of those funds may be headed.
The Sunlight Foundation on Tuesday released a downloadable Google Earth layer that plots what it says are some 1,500 earmarks attached to a proposed U.S. House of Representatives defense spending bill. The Washington-based group describes its mission as promoting political transparency through use of Internet technologies.
Once activated, each project shows up on the layer in the form of a yellow push pin. Click it, and you'll be taken to a Web site called EarmarkWatch.org, which keeps a database of who's responsible for the handout, how much is being proposed, and for what purpose.
This bill, not surprisingly, seems to be heavy on military tech-related projects. (We're talking things with names like "ubiquitous RFID chem/bio detection," "semi-autonomous robotic manipulation and sensing," and "remote explosive analysis and detection system.") Also unsurprising is that many of the points appear to be clustered around districts represented by influential politicians (for example, western Pennsylvania, home to Rep. John Murtha, the 37-year Marine Corps veteran and Pennsylvania Democrat who's chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Committee).
The bill's still wending its way through Congress, so the spending plans aren't quite final yet. According to the group Citizens Against Government Waste, which also tracks so-called pork barrel spending, the proposed bill contained nearly $8 billion worth of earmarks as of late May.
Check out the map to decide for yourself whether the politicians have wise plans for your tax dollars--or whether it's just a load of pork.