U.S. Rep. Tom Cole has requested an earmark for improving the Ardmore Industrial Airpark. (Provided by Ardmore Industrial Airpark)

WASHINGTON — Following the reinstatement of Directed Congressional Spending, or earmarks, a once-controversial process that allows lawmakers to request funding for local projects in congressional budget bills, the Oklahoma delegation has submitted requests to the House Appropriations Committee for specific projects in their districts.

For Fiscal Year 2022, U.S. Reps. Tom Cole (OK-04), U.S. Reps. Frank Lucas (OK-3) and Stephanie Bice (OK-5) requested earmarks for a multitude of projects. However, some Oklahoma delegation members who have criticized earmarks in the past continue to do so.

Gaylord NewsThis story was reported by Gaylord News, a Washington reporting project of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.

Earmarks were banned by Congress in 2011. Before that, earmarks were commonly used but attracted controversy from critics who claimed they led to wasteful spending and corruption due to a lack of transparency.

The return of earmarks is a result of a bipartisan resolution. Lawmakers now must certify that neither they nor their families have any financial stake in projects, and must publicly disclose the details of the project.

Rep. Markwayne Mullin (OK-2) has voiced his support for earmarks in the past but did not submit any requests for the 2022 budget.

Rep. Kevin Hern (OK-1), an outspoken critic of earmarking, submitted no requests and has introduced the Roadmap to Congressional Reform Package, which includes eliminating earmarks as one of its priorities.

Cole has the most expensive wish list at $88 million.

The largest of his requests is for a $50 million Global Transportation and Industrial Park project he says would improve aging infrastructure and create jobs at the Ardmore Industrial Airpark.

“The funding request for the airpark presented by the Ardmore community reflects the most important needs they have identified to increase the capacity of this facility for economic development in the region,” Cole said.

Mita Bates, senior vice president and CFO of the Ardmore Development Authority, was pleased that Cole had seen the need to expand the Airpark. 

“Congressmen Cole, like other members of our delegation, recognizes the huge potential of our Airpark strategically centered between two growing metropolitan areas, Oklahoma City and Dallas/Fort Worth,” Bates said.  

Another priority for Cole, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, is the creation of a Native American Arthritis Research and Training Center in Oklahoma City, designed to address Indigenous inequities in health care. 

Lucas also seeks to improve Native American health care, with projects including an Indigenous health equity center in Tulsa that would conduct research to better understand health differences in Indigenous communities. 

The lingering health disparities of American Indians are troubling, and (…) the center would help promote research focused on eliminating these health disparities in indigenous populations,” Lucas said. He is seeking $6.5 million overall, divided between four projects.

Oklahoma senators disagree on earmarks

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) was a proud user of earmarks before the 2010 Senate GOP ban, but U.S. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) believed earmarks are an easy way to misuse funds.

“There are responsible ways to spend American tax dollars, and then there are earmarks,” Lankford said. “But earmarks do not prioritize essential national projects. They prioritize lobbying and bridges to nowhere. We do not need one more way to overspend in the Senate.”

In 2010, Inhofe sponsored and co-sponsored earmarks totaling more than $86 million. Notable projects he secured funding for include the Inhofe Air Traffic Control Tower at Vance Air Force Base and the Joint Fires and Effects Training System at Ft. Sill. 

Inhofe has not submitted a request for the next fiscal year. The deadlines to submit earmark requests range by committee, from June 15 to July 9.

List of delegation member’s requests:

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Bice’s requests: 

  • Oklahoma City — Native American Arthritis Research and Training Center. Amount not specified.
  • Oklahoma City — for the creation of the Oklahoma State University Oklahoma City Center for Social Innovation. Amount not specified.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole’s requests:

  • Ardmore — Ardmore Industrial Airpark; $50 million.
  • Grady County project, adding shoulders and resurfacing State Highway 19 between Alex and Lindsay; $12 million.
  • Garvin and Pontotoc County project, adding shoulders and resurfacing State Highway 19 between Stratford and Ada; $10.5 million.
  • Lawton/Fort Sill — Fires Innovation Science and Technology Accelerator, campus modernization and expansion of the innovation park; $7.95 million.
  • Midwest City — Water infrastructure improvements; $5 million.
  • Oklahoma City — for the creation of Oklahoma Children’s Behavioral Health; $1 million.
  • Norman — Hospital medical gas system and mechanical infrastructure; $622,760.
  • Oklahoma City — Mid-America Christian University mental health counselor training and credentialing; $850,000.
  • Oklahoma City — Native American and Arthritis Research and Training Center; $406,860.

U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas’ requests:

  • Ponca City — Ponca City multi-model transportation infrastructure project; $2 million.
  • Tulsa — Indigenous health equity; $2 million.
  • Stillwater — Rapid assured fully transparent integrated circuit platform; $1.2 million.
  • Stillwater— 6G Innovations; $1 million.