Critics See 'Pork' in Budget Items Earmarked for Higher Education
Federal taxpayers will spend $2 million in fiscal 1999 to archive former Sen. Bob Dole's papers at the University of Kansas, and that, says one budget watchdog, is an example of higher education "pork."
The item is one of 26 projects at colleges and universities that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., identified on his 10th annual "list of objectionable provisions," which was released on the World Wide Web in October. Mr. McCain considers such projects dubious because they have not been justified through the usual appropriations process.
Among the items of alleged budgetary pork on Mr. McCain's list were appropriations that essentially thwarted any attempt at competitive funding by directing federal dollars to a specific locality or research facility. Others were added to the budget during a House-Senate conference hearing but never debated on either the House or Senate floor.
For those who receive the funding, however, it is anything but pork.
The Dole project at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, for example, will log the largest and most complete congressional archives to date, said Burdette Loomis, the interim director for the Dole Institute for Service and Public Policy.
"We are conserving an absolutely unique set of papers," Mr. Loomis said of the documents from the former Senate majority leader and 1996 Republican presidential nominee. "The archive has an extraordinary historical value."
In addition to the $2 million, the university will receive $4 million in federal dollars for an endowment. The funds will be used for institute programs on public service and public policy, Mr. Loomis said.
The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale was also on Mr. McCain's list. Its $1 million in federal funding this fiscal year will help pay for symposia on domestic-policy issues, said former Sen. Paul Simon, who now spends his time teaching at the university.
"I understand where John [McCain] is coming from," Mr. Simon, a Democrat, said. "How you delineate between what is pork and what is a good project is sometimes a fuzzy line, but I think this is one that will pay off for the federal government."
The state of Oregon also fared well in this year's budget. In fiscal 1999, which began Oct. 1, Oregon State University in Corvallis will receive $3 million for a distance-education program, and Portland State University will use $2.1 million for symposia at the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government.
"This is really micromanaging at the federal level," Ron Utt, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank, said of such projects. "Washington is determining what the states need."
State officials who see a great need for a specific project will find the funding for it, he added.
The money that goes to such higher education projects should instead be used for scholarships for needy students, said Arthur Levine, the president of Teachers College, Columbia University, in New York City.
"Two thousand kids could have gone to school with the money used to refurbish Senator Dole's papers," Mr. Levine said. "I'm not sure that is the right way to invest money when we are at risk of losing a generation of kids."
In the fight for funding, though, colleges and universities--especially those outside the prestigious Ivy League--have to be scrappy, argued Peter Smith, the director of public affairs at the Association of American Universities. The Washington-based organization works with 62 large, research-oriented universities around the country.
While top-tier schools receive significant amounts of aid from competitive grants and funding from other sources such as donors, regional schools like Portland State are often left without research funds, Mr. Smith said. High-quality research then is limited to only a handful of geographic areas, he said.
Still, "we think scientific funding should be provided not on the basis of political influence, but on the merits of the work," Mr. Smith said.
The pork report can be found at www.senate.gov/~mccain/porkbar.htm.
Vol. 18, Issue 14, Page 26Published in Print: November 25, 1998, as Critics See 'Pork' in Budget Items Earmarked for Higher Education