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03-25-2008, 11:49 AM

USF On A High D.C. Pork Diet


The Tampa Tribune

Published: March 25, 2008

Updated: 11:33 pm

The University of South Florida is among the top 10 universities in the amount of money it receives through special requests inserted into the federal budget by friendly members of Congress.

In the most recent fiscal year, USF received $23 million in so-called congressional earmarks, often known as pork because of the "bacon" such funding can deliver to a lawmaker's home district.

That's the ninth highest amount received by any university studied in all 50 states, according to an analysis by the Chronicle of Higher Education released Monday.

According to the Chronicle, federal lawmakers channeled a record $2.3 billion into 2,300 projects at universities. Leading the pack was Mississippi State University with $43 million, thanks largely to Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

'Keys To The Castle'

USF receives millions annually for defense research, including $4 million this year to develop safeguards and countermeasures against chemical and biological attacks.

Why? Steve Ellis of the Washington-based group Taxpayers for Common Sense said the answer is simple: Rep. C.W. Bill Young of Indian Shores is the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee's Defense Subcommittee.

In that role, Ellis explained, Young wields enormous influence on where to steer hundreds of millions in defense dollars, sometime to projects or programs that have little to do with national defense. Young, Ellis said, "has the keys to the castle."

USF lobbyist Kathy Betancourt said Monday the university has been "very lucky in that Congressman Young has been well-placed," but he added that USF doesn't ask for anything it can't later brag about.

Congressional money, for instance, has supported the university's work with SRI International to develop marine sensors to improve port security and safety, Betancourt said.

"Everything we've done has a national purpose," she said. "SRI would not be there absent those investments."

While some academic earmarks went to campus roads and classrooms buildings at universities nationwide, the Chronicle found that two-thirds, or $1.6 billion, went to scientific research - with no peer review of the projects' merits.

The average value of earmarks for higher education has fallen since 2003, but, the Chronicle noted, budgets for the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation also have declined. That makes it harder to get peer-reviewed federal research grants.

It's an example of why Ellis and other critics keep saying earmarking remains a broken process that year after year has been used to funnel billions of dollars to home districts outside of the usual merit-based and competitive federal grant process.

The huge dollar amounts contained in the defense spending bill also make it a favorite vehicle of lawmakers to shove through a lot of seemingly non-defense-related items that benefit their local colleges and universities - such as cancer research, Ellis said.

Some Earmarks Are Shared

Among such possible earmarks, Ellis said, is a $6 million item for tumor and cancer research at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute. That is listed as being requested by Young, along with Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

"You've heard the old saying, 'Why do you rob banks? Because that's where the money is,'" Ellis said. "Well, you could also say, 'Why are there so many defense earmarks?' Because that's where the money is."

Young's spokesman, Harry Glenn, explained that many of Florida's universities, such as USF, are relatively new and need a chance to compete with older, established universities with more advanced research bases.

Some of the money tagged for USF must also be shared with other universities, Glenn said. USF is the lead institution to develop chemical and biological attack countermeasures, but Florida State University also participates in the program.

"He's always tried to help these universities out," Glenn said of Young.

Despite its rank on the Chronicle's list, the Tampa university received far more earmarks five years ago. In 2003, USF was ranked third in the Chronicle's survey, with $43 million in Congressional grants.

Most of the current earmarks for USF continue ongoing projects, not new ones, Betancourt said.

Congressional earmarks are designated for specific purposes, so the money cannot soften the state budget cuts USF expects to make. The university plans to cut about $55 million from the school's budget through next year as the state weighs how to close a deficit expected to top $3 billion this year and next.

Reporter Adam Emerson can be reached at aemerson@tampatrib.com or (813) 259-8285.

03-25-2008, 08:25 PM
.....and they cry poverty......

Time for a check of the books