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Washington Update: The Pork Pursuit Flourishes

by Gervaise Dupree
UCAR Office of Government Affairs

In April 1992, I wrote a column, "Roasting congressional pork." Many of you have asked for an update.

Pork-barrel projects continue to be laced in the appropriations bills, despite the efforts of House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee chair, George Brown (D–Calif.), to eliminate pork from the legislative landscape.

Oversight hearings on academic earmarking
In September, Brown renewed his campaign to banish academic pork barreling. In fiscal year 94, earmarked projects totaled $651 million, a decline of $112 million from 1993. The final tabulations have not been made for FY 95.

Brown held three hearings on the subject before the end of the session, with testimony from senior executive branch officials and university representatives. The hearings rehashed many now-familiar arguments, with committee members expressing criticism of universities that employ professional lobbyists.

In testimony before the SS&T committee on 21–22 September, Martha Krebs of the Department of Energy (DOE) and Jon Cannon of the Environmental Protection Agency criticized earmarks as "intrusions on their priorities by politically adept universities." DOE provided a tally of the cuts made in ongoing programs to finance congressionally dictated earmarks. Brown noted that universities alone are not to blame; the administration and Congress collaborate.

On the other side of the debate, John Silber, president of Boston University, testified that "earmarking is a proper and necessary antidote to the domination of federal research funding by a handful of elite universities." According to government statistics, 31 of the 592 universities receiving federal research funds get half the total, and Silber points out that earmarks comprise a very small portion of federal money for university-based research--about 6% of the $11 billion total. (Greenberg, Daniel, "Mark it for science." The Washington Post, 10 October 1994)

Others argued that they turned to their congressional representatives because money they needed for worthy projects was not available from the federal agencies. Brown answered that quality is not the issue (in fact, he conceded that many pork projects are scientifically worthy), but that science must make wise use of scarce resources and peer review is the best method to ensure that. (Science & Government, 1 October 1994, and AAU Washington Report, 14 October 1994)

In a hearing on 6 October, Deputy Secretary of Defense John Deutch said that while DOD opposes earmarks, Congress has the right to determine its own funding process and DOD works with earmark recipients to improve their projects when necessary. Deutch suggested a federal facilities program as an alternative. Brown produced a chart that reflected a large proportion of DOD earmarks going to institutions in Pennsylvania, the home of the chairman and ranking member of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Other witnesses testified that the primary problem with earmarks is that they are not carried out within the context of national, agency, or congressional priorities. ( AAU Washington Report, 14 October 1994)

At the conclusion of the hearings, there appeared to be agreement that earmarking results in part from the failure of Congress to establish a process for funding academic infrastructure. Silber called earmarking and peer review "apples and oranges.” While peer review has always been the accepted way to select investigators for research grants, no comparable program for infrastructure funding exists. If Congress wants to cast a blind eye on the facilities problem, he said, institutions will find other avenues to get funding. (American Institute of Physics, FYI #149, “Earmarking,” 12 October 1994)

VA, HUD, Independent Agencies
This year the Veterans Administration, Housing and Urban Development, and Independent Agencies appropriations bill for FY 95 contains $290 million in earmarked spending. The House passed the bill by a vote of 189 to 180, even though its own version had contained no earmarking. The Senate Appropriations Committee increased earmarking in the House bill from zero to $135 million. The final House-Senate conference committee then earmarked a total of $290 million. Brown declared this action, “an arcane branch of mathematics whereby the compromise between zero and $135 million actually works out to be $290 million."

Almost 25% of the total VA, HUD, Independent Agencies earmarks for FY 95 were to academic institutions ($68 million). Brown calculates that about half of the earmarked money in this bill is targeted to the eight states represented by twelve members of the conference committee. Those states receiving $10 million or more of this money are

New York, $25.40 million West Virginia, $23.00 million California, $21.90 million Ohio, $17.75 million Pennsylvania, $17.35 million New Jersey, $13.49 million Michigan, $10.45 million Maryland, $10.15 million

(American Institute of Physics, FYI # 148, “Earmarking,” 7 October 1994)

Solutions for the future
The authors of the VA, HUD, Independent Agencies Conference Report have requested that NSF be part of the cornerstone of a broader effort by all federal agencies to modernize the academic research infrastructure. NSF is provided with $250 million for this effort in FY 95, $118 million of which is to be divided equally between standard NSF facilities and instrumentation modernization programs. The remaining $132 million is for new interagency programs to be managed by NSF. These funds will be rescinded, however, unless the president's FY 96 budget request includes at least $250 million for NSF’s academic research infrastructure programs.

In addition to the model NSF program, the National Science and Technology Council, with the cooperation of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, has been asked to develop a five-year interagency research infrastructure strategy. It would specify how increasing numbers of federal science and technology agencies would participate in similar activities modeled on the NSF merit review selection for facilities and instrumentation needs. (House Conference Report 103-715, 1 September 1994)

At the very least, policymakers have been put on notice of the causes and abuses of earmarking. If the facilities and infrastructure needs of the university community can be met, everyone--universities, Congress, and the administration--can turn their attention to other aspects of national priorities.

Some $15.4 million of peer-reviewed research at DOE was crowded out for FY 94 earmarks, including $1.95 million from global change research. Source: House Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight.

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Edited by Carol Rasmussen, carolr@ucar.edu
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Last revised: Mon Apr 3 17:39:58 MDT 2000