Congress cash for colleges

August 11, 2000

Mindful of the imminent elections, incumbent congressmen anxious to impress the folks back home - including faculty, students, parents and loyal alumni - have showered a record windfall in government grants on universities in all but one of the 50 states.

Much of the money was tucked away inside bills that passed with the flood of budget measures as Congress hurtled towards this month's presidential nominating conventions. This practice, known as "pork-barrel" after a pre-emancipation plantation practice of distributing salt pork to slaves from wooden barrels, was condemned by the group Citizens Against Government Waste as a "game of hide-and-seek" that "hurts our representative form of democracy and threatens our fiscal stability".

Universities, on the other hand, are delighted. Many received money for projects that had been turned down by federal bureaucrats. Auburn University, for instance, was given $4 million (Pounds 2.6 million) for a new forestry building, even though it was opposed as wasteful by the United States forest service. Purdue University was given $1 million for animal waste management research, and Florida International University $2.5 million for a windstorm simulation project.

In all, Congress has given more than $1 billion to universities in the federal budget, a record for such spending.

Many universities employ high-powered Washington lobbyists to help ensure they get their share of the money. The universities that receive the most are represented by congressmen who hold key posts on appropriations committees. West Virginia's Wheeling Jesuit University, with only about 1,500 students, got at least $9 million, thanks mainly to its congressional benefactor, Senator Robert C. Byrd. The school has named its technology transfer centre after Senator Byrd, and its centre for educational technologies is named after his wife.

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