Citizens Against Government Waste’s 2020 Pig Book Highlights Appropriations Abuses

Last week, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) released their 2020 Congressional Pig Book to highlight the irresponsible spending that continues even as our national debt climbs past $20 trillion. According to CAGW’s research, Congress bypassed proper budgetary procedures and approved $15.9 billion of “pork” projects in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020. The report details a number of spending provisions attached as line-items in appropriations bills that circumvent the procedures which are supposed to make spending more effective and transparent.

To qualify as a example of “pork,” specific spending must meet at least one of the following criteria: requested by only 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; and/or serves only a local or special interest.

CAGW notes that in 2020 there were fewer “pork” items than in previous years, though more money was spent on average for each earmark, and total spending increased by 3.9%. CAGW's criteria points to clear examples of pork-barrel projects including:

  • $2.1 billion for 22 unrequested Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, continuing to fund a program which is nine years behind schedule at double its initial cost estimate.
  • $65 million for Pacific coastal salmon recovery, which has cost a total of $344.5 million since FY 2000.
  • $21 million for the Heritage Partnership Program, which has received $118 million in earmarks since FY 2001 to fund sports complexes, agricultural tourism, and park improvements.
  • $25.8 million for wild horse and burro management, an 86.5% increase from FY 2019.
  • $663,000 for a brown tree snake eradication program, which has cost the federal government $18.3 million since 1983.


Though $15.9 billion is only 0.043% of the deficit in 2020, the items described in the Congressional Pig Book are symptomatic of deeper issues with the way tax dollars are spent. Cutting waste and abuse is just one aspect of restoring fiscal responsibility.

As we recover from the health and economic impacts of COVID-19, we need to make more than a small dent in the deficit to protect our fiscal wellbeing. Identifying waste is a good start, but solutions to the rapidly growing debt will require a carefully-considered combination of entitlement and tax reform.