April 10, 2008

C.U. Earmarks Break From Nat’l Trend

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Cornell seems to be defying the national trend of increased earmarks for academic research, which was highlighted in a report published last month by The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Earmarks are provisions in federal appropriations bills that dedicate money to specific pet projects of members of Congress.
For the 2008 fiscal year, Congress appropriated over $2.1 million dollars in federal earmarks that will directly benefit Cornell research, according to the University’s Office of Federal Government Relations.
This figure is significantly less than the amount the University received five and 10 years ago, at nearly $7 million and $4 million respectively, according to The Chronicle.
Cornell received several USDA earmarks funding research ranging from the environmental risk factors of breast cancer to human nutrition to agriculture ecosystems. The University will also share with other institutions the funding for the Department of Commerce earmarks to fund a regional climate center and a national textile center.
As the number of earmarks has increased over the past few decades, they have attracted many vocal critics within and outside of Congress who condemn earmarks as an example of government waste.
Earmark funding is a hot topic in the current presidential race. Senators Hilary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) supported a one-year moratorium on the practice, while Sen. John McCain (D-Ariz.) has pledged to ban earmarks if elected.
However, Clinton co-sponsored several of the earmarks given to Cornell.
Seeking Congressional earmarks is one of two ways that researchers can receive federal funding. Alternatively, universities can apply for funding through federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health or the National Science Foundation. While those agencies award funding based on a merit-based, peer-reviewed process, earmark funding originates from a member of Congress. Some critics, therefore, claim the earmarks circumvent proper oversight and are based on political clout rather than merit.
As a policy, Cornell does not seek or accept Congressional earmarks except for under “limited circumstances,” according to Dianne Miller, director of Federal Relations. In the case of agricultural research, the University actively seeks earmarks and lobbies members of Congress because the USDA funding process is not competitive and is limited. Earmarks are often more well-suited to longer-term agricultural research because they are easier to renew each year, Dianne added. The University also accepts earmarks when the funding is shared with other institutions or part of an organization.
“To counter the pressure to seek earmarked funding, Cornell has argued that the country is best served when research dollars are awarded through a competitive, peer-reviewed process,” according to a 2006 memo by Robert Richardson, vice provost for research, outlining Cornell’s earmark policy.
Cornell’s refusal of most Congressional earmarks will maximize researching funding in the long-run, according to Richardson. Referring to Cornell’s efforts to lobby for increased funding for the entire budget of federal scientific agencies rather than seek earmarks, he wrote: “The theory is that we are very competitive, and the larger the pie, the bigger our piece of it is going to be.”
The Chronicle ranked Cornell 92nd in the total amount of non-shared earmarks, placing it ahead of the other Ivies. According to Miller, the information used by The Chronicle — which estimated Cornell received $5.1 million in exclusive earmarks — was misleading.
In its analysis, The Chronicle incorrectly attributed several earmarks to Cornell that are shared among other institutions or go to a research consortium that collaborates with Cornell scientists, according to Miller. Cornell did not advocate for these earmarks, and in many cases Cornell will see a very small share of the money — if any at all — from these earmarks, she added.
The $2.1 million figure places Cornell closer to 187th according to The Chronicle’s rankings.