Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Porcine Research at Penn State

The Collegian does some excellent work this morning in a report by Katharine Lackey on Penn State's federal earmarks.
Penn State will receive $18.6 million in congressional earmarks from various state senators and representatives for 10 projects ranging from agriculture to defense during the 2008 fiscal year, according to a 2008 database released in February by non-partisan watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Go read the article for details on where the money goes and who's shoveling it Penn State's way. I'd like to give the report a bit of context.

The Association of American Universities (AAU) which was founded in 1900 in order to improve the quality of American research universities has long opposed earmarked research funding. Shortly after President Bush's 2008 State of the Union speech, in which he denounce earmarks, Robert M. Berdahl, President of the Association of American Universities, released the following strong statement in support of the elimination of academic research earmarks.
The Association of American Universities strongly supports the principle that merit-reviewed competition is the best method ofensuring the quality and cost-effectiveness of federally sponsored research. AAU has always expressed concern that congressional or administration earmarking of federal research funds may reduce the capacity of federal agencies to support the most promising research and thereby impair the quality of our national research program.

While AAU respects the authority of Congress to set spending priorities and most earmarks are not directed to colleges and universities, we applaud steps that have the effect of reducing academic earmarking that diverts funding from peer-reviewed research. While there is a long way to go, Congress took steps in the right direction last year, and now the President proposes to go even further. To the extent that these actions free up needed resources for peer-reviewed science, we applaud them.
The in 2005 the AAU Executive Committee released a statement on earmarks.
One important factor in the success of America’s national research program is that federal funds for university-based research are primarily awarded through peer review, which allocates funding based on informed judgments of the merit of competing research proposals. AAU has long held that such merit-reviewed competition is the best method of ensuring the quality andcost-effectiveness of federally sponsored research.

AAU is concerned that Congressional earmarking of federal research funds may reduce the capacity of federal agencies that sponsor merit-based competitions to support the most promising research and will thereby impair the quality of our national research program.AAU institutions have a responsibility to support a strong research program based on merit and should refrain from seeking or accepting earmarks that put merit-reviewed funding at risk.
You can find much more on this topic on the AAU Web site.

For the record, the current chair of the AAU is...........Graham. Of course, he got the gig the same way that he got the gig chairing the Kellogg Commission a few years back:he used connections. The president of the Kellogg Foundation when Graham chaired the commission was William Richardson a former Penn State provost. And the the chair of the AAU previous to Graham was the president of Northwestern, Graham's graduate Alma Mater. And So I guess we can't expect him to actually uphold the principles of the AAU.

Back to the article. Junior Penn State flack Geoff Rushton does his damnest to make it sound like Penn State isn't cavalier about feeding at the pig trough.
Geoff Rushton, a Penn State spokesman, wrote in an e-mail that Penn State requests funding for projects through earmarks.

"We go through an intense internal process to ensure that every earmark Penn State receives is consistent with the university's mission, is a good use of taxpayer money and is supported by the federal agency through which the money would flow," he wrote.

Earmarks are sent through the U.S. House and Senate as attachments to appropriation bills for specific projects, but the requests for money are generally not reviewed on the floors.

The process the university goes through to request earmarks includes faculty involvement at several levels, Rushton wrote.

"Penn State faculty are required to clear their requests with their deans and associate deans, who then coordinate with the senior vice president for research and the director of federal relations to determine how best to prioritize projects," he wrote.

That's right Penn State is telling you to trust them, they're putting your money to good use. This is just so typical of Penn State: replace an open, transparent, competitive system with an closed and opaque system where the fix is in and then try to convince people that the process is open, transparent and competitive.

So fitting. Graham gets his gigs by pulling stings and Penn State gets $18.6 million in research money the same way.

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