March 12, 2009

Amid Criticism, C.U. Receives Federal Earmarks

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President Barack Obama signed into law yesterday what he called an “imperfect” $410 billion omnibus appropriations bill, amid Republican criticism that the legislation contains billions of dollars of earmarks.
Several of those earmarks contain funding that will benefit Cornell, most significantly $2.2 million headed for the Univer­sity’s Grape Genetics Research Center at Geneva.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has criticized the money earmarked for the project as an example of wasteful spending, ranking it as number four on his Top 10 list of the worst examples of “pork” in the bill.
Cornell, which lobbied specifically for the earmark, defended the project’s merit.
“I don’t think [McCain] understood the role that grapes and wines play in the New York state economy and what the center has done and what it will continue to do,” Stephen Johnson, vice president for government and community relations, said yesterday. 
Johnson explained that Cornell sought the earmark because the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not have a competitive process for obtaining funding for capital projects.  For federal agencies that do have such processes to obtain funding — such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation — Johnson said that the University does not seek earmarks.
“Ag pork is ok. That’s the way it has historically been,” Johnson said, referring to the USDA’s lack of a competitive process for distributing research money. 
The omnibus bill also earmarks funding for several other Cornell research projects, including human nutrition, computational agriculture, food safety and breast cancer environmental risk factors.