Earmarking is the procedure by which Congress can specify amounts of Federal spending for a particular purpose. It usually takes the form of an individual Member of Congress including text in either a report or joint statement of managers on an appropriation Act, or in the Act itself. 

A more ephemeral, harder to define, form of earmark that takes the form of personal contact between Members of Congress, or their staff, and an executive branch agency, indicating a purpose for a particular amount, where discretion is allowed in the dispersal of funds. 

In the House of Representatives, see clause 9 of rule XXI.

GAO Glossary of Terms and Definition (September 2005)


Either of the following:

(1) Dedicating collections by law for a specific purpose or prog Earmarked collections include trust fund receipts, special fund receipts, intragovernmental receipts, and offsetting collections credited to appropriation accounts. These collections may be classified as budget receipts, proprietary receipts, or reimbursements to appropriations.

(2) Designating any portion of a lump-sum amount for particular purposes by means of legislative language. Sometimes, “earmarking” is colloquially used to characterize directions included in congressional committee reports but not in the legislation itself.

(See also Special Fund Accounts under Federal Fund Accounts under Account in the President’s Budget; Trust Fund Accounts under Account in the President’s Budget; Offsetting Collections under Collections; Proprietary Receipts from the Public under Offsetting Receipts under CollectionsCommittee Allocation.)

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Congressional Earmarking

In clause 9 of rule XXI, the term “congressional earmarking” is defined as follows: 

(e) For the purpose of this clause, the term “congressional earmark” means a provision or report language included primarily at the request of a Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, or Senator providing, authorizing or recommending a specific amount of discretionary budget authority, credit authority, or other spending authority for a contract, loan, loan guarantee, grant, loan authority, or other expenditure with or to an entity, or targeted to a specific State, locality or Congressional district, other than through a statutory or administrative formula-driven or competitive award process.


Discretionary Spending Limits


Economy Act