USF helps itself to more pork

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently released its findings on federal earmarks for colleges and universities for the 2008 fiscal year. The analysis reported 920 colleges and universities received more than 2,300 projects from legislators in 2008, costing taxpayers at least $2.25 billion.

The analysis ranked USF ninth in the nation in earmarked fund receipts. In the 2008 fiscal year, the University received 13 earmarked projects totaling $23 million. Of those 13 projects, nine were for defense and had Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Indian Shores) attached. Rep. Young is the ranking Republican on the House Appropriation Committee’s Defense Subcommittee.

Some criticize the use of earmarks as wasteful and unethical, while others think they provide needed cash for universities like USF.

The projects include a $3 million program to facilitate critical language instruction for military personnel, a $1 million program for researching new devices systems, and composite materials for military applications and $400,000 for an initiative to identify and provide rapid-response countermeasures to chemical and biological incidents.

Rep. Young’s name is familiar to the University. He secured the funds for the C.W. Bill Young Hall Joint Military Leadership Center on Nov. 2, 2007, which houses USF’s ROTC program. The state-of-the-art building boasts classroom technology unlike any other building on campus. However, it is not strictly for the ROTC; it also houses general use classrooms for other departments to use.

Earmarked funding is money secured through congressional representatives for their own district. This practice is referred to as “pork barreling” because the projects are seen as unneeded “fat” or “bacon” in the budget.

A government watchdog group, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), defines pork projects as “a line-item in an appropriations bill that designates tax dollars for a specific purpose in circumvention of established budgetary procedures.”

Professor Steven Tauber of the Department of Government and International Affairs at the University said pork barreling should be judged on a project-by-project basis.

“There isn’t necessarily a problem with pork barreling. It is part of the legislative process,” he said. “Pork barrel projects should be evaluated on their usefulness.”

University spokesman Michael Hoad and Young’s chief of staff, Harry Glenn, said the projects sponsored by Young at USF are not pork.

“First of all, he helps all Florida universities, not just the University of South Florida,” Glenn said. “Part of the issue here was when he first became a member of the appropriations committee 20 years ago, Florida universities weren’t able to compete with other universities in the northeast and west coast for federal awards. One of the reasons was that they were newer schools. One of his goals was to give them more support so that they would be able to compete more successfully.”

Glenn said the projects have created jobs in Florida and have brought a number of businesses and organizations to the state to participate in new research opportunities. He used SRI International, a firm based in Silicon Valley that developed a new marine technology center in St. Petersburg, as an example of funds provided to USF St. Petersburg through Young. He also said Moffitt Cancer Center, another project started with funds earmarked by Young, has signed numerous agreements with organizations who wanted to be a part of the research done at Moffitt.

Hoad, Vice President for Communications at the University, defended the projects.

“They are extremely defensible and it’s to Congressman Young’s credit that he sponsored them,” Hoad said.

Hoad said Young created the Biological Defense Center at USF before the anthrax murders in 2001, and as a result, the University had an up-and-running unit ready to respond with testing, front line education and research throughout the state.

“It made Florida known as the state furthest ahead in preparing for biological attacks,” Hoad said.

Kathy Betancourt, USF lobbyist, agreed that the projects that Young helped the campus to secure are not pork.

“They are vetted in the departments, colleges, on campus and then as part of the SUS portfolio. Then they are scrutinized in the halls of Congress, as well,” she said.

Betancourt said every USF proposal must serve a national purpose, comport with the USF Strategic Plan, meet a need not met by the competitive grants process and provide for future opportunities.

Political science professor Susan MacManus said many people think what Congress does is pork barrel spending until it happens in their district.

“People hate Congress but they love their Congress member, and people hate earmarks but they love the ones going into their own district,” she said.

She said Rep. Young’s actions are typical of a committee chair.

“One of the advantages of being a committee chair is that it enhances your ability to reward your own district. That’s nothing new,” she said.