Isles’ delegation grabs $30M in UH earmarks
The add-ons ensure not just the "big states" benefit, politicians say
STORY SUMMARY »
Hawaii's congressional delegation is bringing home the bacon for higher education.
The four Democrats secured $30.7 million in earmarks -- federal grant requests inserted into legislative bills by individual congressional members -- for projects at the University of Hawaii in the 2008 fiscal year, says a review by the Chronicle of Higher Education. That is the fifth-highest total among colleges and universities in the nation.
Critics say earmarks circumvent the peer-review, competitive process of awarding money for educational programs, but Sen. Daniel Inouye and Rep. Neil Abercrombie say they are needed to make sure all states and universities get their share of funds.
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The University of Hawaii ranks high in getting "academic pork," or noncompetitive grants secured by members of Congress, a new study shows.
UH received $30.7 million in congressional earmarks in 2008, the fifth-highest figure among schools across the country, according to an analysis by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Most of the earmarks for UH come from the U.S. Department of Defense, followed by the Agriculture, Education, Commerce and Energy departments.
Among Hawaii's all-Democratic congressional delegation, Sen. Daniel Inouye captured the most grants, with his name attached to 19 of 25 earmarks. Rep. Mazie Hirono came in second, with seven earmarks, followed by Sen. Daniel Akaka with six and Rep. Neil Abercrombie with two.
The grants range from $62,000 for termite research to $1 million for studies on tropical medicine and infectious disease and $9 million for development of telescopes at UH's Institute for Astronomy.
Despite recent calls in Congress for a moratorium on earmarks, lawmakers set aside a record $2.3 billion in pet projects for colleges and universities in the 2008 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. The sum was $300 million more than the last time the Chronicle conducted its survey, in 2003, when the total was $2.01 billion.
This year also was the first time the Chronicle listed earmark sponsors because of a new law mandating the release of that information.
Mississippi State University got the most earmarks, $43 million. The University of Mississippi was runner-up with $37.6 million, followed by the University of South Alabama ($33.4 million) and Texas A&M University ($31.3 million).
A chief critic of the education earmarks is the Association of American Universities, which unsuccessfully urged its members in the 1980s to reject the pet projects. The group argues that funding should be awarded to peer-reviewed proposals to foster research competition and quality.
In a statement, association President Robert Berdahl said "congressional or administration earmarking of federal research funds may reduce the capacity of federal agencies to support the most promising research."
The Chronicle also said budgets for grant-funding agencies like the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation have been declining since 2003, "making earmarks more difficult to ignore."
The UH earmarks generally represent about 10 percent of the school's annual research grants and contracts, which reached about $400 million last year, officials said.
Researchers at UH have "mixed" feelings on earmarks because they could be viewed as taking money from research subject to peer review, said Gary Ostrander, vice chancellor for research and graduate education.
He, however, said earmarks are key to support projects like the fight against the coqui frog and the study of tsunamis -- topics that are critical for Hawaii but which Ostrander said might not get enough attention from Washington.
"We are probably the ideal state that has the most to gain or lose in terms of tsunami research," he said.
Abercrombie defended the UH earmarks, saying they are debated in Congress and fund research in areas where the school is considered an expert such as oceanography, astronomy and cancer.
"And if it wasn't for congressional oversight as to where the projects would go, the big states would grab all the projects," he said.
Inouye, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee, agrees that earmarks "level the playing field for all colleges and universities," his spokesman, Mike Yuen, wrote in an e-mail.
"If granting federal funds was done solely by peer review, the funds would only continue to be channeled to so-called prestige schools," he said.
The New York Times contributed to this report.
Bringing home the 'academic pork'
The biggest five earmarks, in dollars, for the University of Hawaii:
» $9 million to continue development of telescopes with different sensors at the Institute of Astronomy through the PanSTARRS program with the Maui Space Surveillance System and the Maui High Performance Computing Center
» $7.1 million, shared with the University of Florida, for studies on tropical plants for the T-STAR research program
» $6 million to support the Pacific Disaster Center, of which the university is the managing partner
» $5.5 million for the Hawaii Undersea Chemical Weapons Assessment program
» $4 million for the Low-Earth Orbit Nanosatellite Integrated Defense Autonomous System, a project to launch small satellites from the Pacific Missile Range Facility
Source: Chronicle of Higher Education
Thursday, March 27, 2008
» The University of Hawaii will share a $7.1 million grant to study tropical plants with the University of Florida. Originally this story incorrectly said the funds would go only to UH.