I have been on somewhat of a crusade against unauthorized,
location-specific appropriations to academic institutions which
bypass congressional debate and legitimate processes of peer review
or merit review.
Rep. George Brown (D-California), chairman of the House science
committee, is known as an outspoken critic of appropriating money
for unauthorized projects. Speaking at the February 12 meeting of
the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), he
announced his intention to hold a series of hearings over the next
two months to investigate the practice, known as earmarking. The
purpose of the hearings, Brown said, "is to shine a spotlight on
this problem in an attempt to gain illumination about how the trend
in earmarking can be curbed."
The accepted process for funding of academic research requires that
a project undergo peer review for scientific merit before it is
funded by the appropriate federal agency. If the project is large
and costly, or involves construction of a facility, it might
undergo public hearings by a congressional authorizing committee.
It is the role of the authorizing committee to approve agency
budgets and programs, so that the corresponding appropriations
committee can provide funding. Earmarks, also known as "pork
barrel," are projects which are specified for funding in an
appropriations bill or report, without undergoing merit review or
authorization. Powerful members of the appropriations committees
often target this "pork" for academic institutions in their home
states or districts.
Common for years in public works projects, earmarks for academic
research and facilities have soared in recent years. Some
universities, feeling the effects of tight budgets, outdated
equipment and deteriorating facilities, have begun lobbying their
Members of Congress for money. "Since 1980," Brown stated, "the
total value of earmarked projects has risen 70-fold. The net value
of academic earmarks between fiscal year 1980 and fiscal year 1992
was more than $2.5 billion, with nearly 50 percent of this total
being appropriated in the last two fiscal years. The fiscal year
1992 appropriations bills and reports contained 500 earmarked
projects for academic institutions-- for a net value of $707
Brown has begun his investigation by sending questionnaires to 50
of the academic institutions which received earmarks in fiscal year
1993 appropriations bills, asking for details on how the funds will
be spent. The hearings will address such questions as the results
of prior year earmarks, the motivation behind earmarking, and the
impact of earmarks on other scientific research. "I don't begin to
know how best to resolve this problem," Brown admitted, "but I am
unwilling to accept-- as some claim-- that academic earmarking is
not a problem. It is, and it has been spiraling out of control."
Brown was quoted in the January 14 issue of "Washington Technology"
as saying, "This is a highly visible area on which the political
aspects are pretty clearly defined. You're out to feather your own
nest with these `pork projects,' or else you're trying to represent
the interests of the whole country by subjecting these projects to
intense scrutiny, peer review and appropriate action from the
committees. . . We're trying to be on the side of angels and
correct this problem."
The series of hearings will be the subject of future FYIs