Robert Bluey
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A congressional Web site devoted to spending reform may soon fall victim to a nearly 10-year-old House rule governing online activity. If the Web site is axed, it will serve as an embarrassing example of just how behind the times our lawmakers are.

The Web site in question, earmarkreform.house.gov, was established with much fanfare on Feb. 12 by House Minority Leader John Boehner. But less than two weeks later, the House’s chief administrative officer told Boehner he had to remove the site. The office now says it will review all similar Web sites, including Rep. Ed Markey’s (D-Mass.) globalwarming.house.gov, to determine their compliance with House rules.

Boehner launched the earmark reform site shortly after House Republicans challenged Democrats to place an immediate moratorium on earmarks -- the practice in which lawmakers stipulate exactly which favored company, group or individual will receive federal grants or contracts. The moratorium is to remain in effect until Congress reforms the out-of-control budget process.

The “offending” Web site focuses exclusively on earmark reform, featuring links to news stories, press releases and a YouTube video of Boehner making the case for a moratorium. Pretty tame stuff, actually.  But in this day and age of petty partisan politics, the Web site touched a nerve in the halls of Congress.

The House’s chief administrative officer, Dan Beard, approved the domain name on Aug. 18, 2007. But only days after the site was up and running, Beard told Boehner it would have to come down because it didn’t comply with rules regulating congressional websites established in 1999 by the House Administration Committee. 

The rules require that house.gov domains must “be recognizably derivative or representative of the name of the Member or the name of the office sponsoring the website.” Furthermore, domain names cannot be a slogan or imply an endorsement of a commercial product, commodity or service, according to the regulations.

Boehner is protesting Beard’s decision. The earmark site, he argues, is no different in nature from globalwarming.house.gov, a Democrat-run Web site that has been operating -- without objection -- since last year. 

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Robert Bluey

Robert B. Bluey is director of the Center for Media & Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation and maintains a blog at RobertBluey.com