CITY HALL — Moves at the White House and Congress to block federal funding earmarks have put at risk $1 million slated for a planned regional DNA laboratory.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) last summer announced he had secured the final $1 million for the $2.5-million project that police officials said would allow for the expansion of lab operations and more quickly process DNA evidence.
But the status of the funding came into question last week, officials said, when U.S. Senate Democrats joined the rest of Congress and announced a two-year moratorium on earmarks, or spending designations typically used by legislators for pet projects — starting with the pending federal appropriations bills.
Having already secured $1.5 million in federal funding for the DNA lab, Glendale officials are slated to begin work on the project soon.
President Obama also announced in his State of the Union address last month that he would veto any bill that included federal earmarks.
Now officials may have to get more creative to secure additional funding.
“We do definitely need the money to continue our DNA lab project,” said Glendale Police Capt. Ray Edey.
While the lab can be built and opened without the funds, the extra $1 million would allow for more staff and increased operations, he added.
In a statement, Schiff said he will do his best to help keep some federal money flowing to local coffers amid the belt-tightening.
“There will continue to be federal grants available for many of these purposes,” he said. “Given the tremendous cutbacks we anticipate at the state and federal level, I will be working with all my cities to make sure we have every opportunity to compete and win these vital resources.”
Meanwhile, the earmark ban has been cheered by taxpayer advocacy groups and conservative lawmakers who have long assailed the “pork barrel” spending as contributing to the nation’s massive deficit.
But city officials say their share of federal dollars have supported important projects, like the DNA lab, that are a far cry from those assailed in national media, such as a teapot museum or the infamous “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska.
“There’s certainly dozens, if not hundreds, of examples of pork-barrel spending projects like the bridge to nowhere,” Edey said. “But there is also an equal number, if not more, of very worthwhile projects. This DNA lab is something that has tremendous regional value.”
In addition to Glendale, the lab will serve police departments in Burbank and Pasadena, allowing the agencies to process DNA evidence related to violent and property crimes.
The same tough funding climate for the lab will mostly like be faced by other local projects that Glendale officials included on their annual federal appropriations wish list — ranging from a bridge over the Los Angeles River connecting Glendale with Griffith Park to a new recycled water pipeline.
“They are starting a new game, and we don’t know what the rules are …” said Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian. “Once we understand the rules, I know that we will be going full-speed ahead to try and be successful in achieving for our projects.”