The spending package that Congress passed on December 23rd has more money for the U.S. government than it will have in the next five years. It was used by both the Senate and the House of Representatives to funnel billions of dollars to thousands of projects in their districts. New research facilities and academic programs are included in the projects.
Earmarks are the practice in which legislators use their constitutional authority over federal spending to benefit their constituency. According to The New York Times, the dollar amount and number of earmarks increased by half. The total is higher than before Congress banned the practice in 2010 because of the ridicule and conviction of a lawmaker for accepting bribes.
The ban was removed in the early part of the 21st century. Proponents say directed funding addresses local and state needs, increases support for must-pass spending bills, and serves as a counterbalance to the executive branch's spending priorities.
Earmarks do not relate to science, they usually fund transportation improvements, new housing, or other forms of regional economic development. Many scientists don't like research-related things. Earmarks don't go through the merit-based competition used to allocate research dollars Science advocates worry that money from the pot available for competitively awarded grants may be diverted by the growth in the number of earmarks.
Legislators acknowledge that the process can be hard to understand. Earmarks are seen as an additional mechanism for increasing federal support for research by those who want more funding for competitive research.
The outgoing chair of the House science committee said that if there was a perfect science of how to fund research, they would probably embrace it. There is not We try to make sure that the importance of research is appreciated. Texas Tech University's Health Sciences Center is one of the things Johnson has earmarked for in her district.
There isn't much research on how the outcomes of science related earmarks compare with those produced by competitive awards. Legislators inserted projects into a Department of Energy program to fund hydrogen research that generated more publications and patents than projects chosen via merit review, according to a study.
Clif Smart is the president of Missouri State University and he doesn't think there is a downside to the things that are done. According to data from the National Science Foundation, the former teachers' college has a minuscule research portfolio, but has bigger ambitions. Smart turned to the state's senior U.S. senator, Roy Blunt, who delivered $85 million in Earmarks.
It takes more than 100 million dollars to bring science classrooms and labs up to today's standards. We wouldn't have been able to do that without the Senator's directed spending.
Earmarks worth more than $300 million were inserted into each of the last two federal spending bills by the senator. He's one of the top five earmarkers in congress.
If each of the 535 members of Congress were as proficient with their own Earmarks, the tally would be much higher. Nondefense agencies spend twice as much on science as defense agencies. The re-emergence of earmarks is not something that Smart is concerned about.
He thinks there should be some limits. I won't worry about what the caps should be. I am responsible for making sure they have adequate facilities.
The Democrats who were in control of Congress adopted rules to prevent the worst abuses. They couldn't fund for-profit entities or projects that would benefit them directly, and members had to disclose every request they made. Legislators are getting input from community leaders on what they should ask for. The cap on the number of requests the house members could make was raised to 15.
Earmarks are a tiny portion of the thousands of accounts that fund government activities. Earmarks have become a significant presence at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Earmarks make up more than half of the additional $103 million the agency received for its in-house research account.
They are going out with a bang, because they didn't run for reelection. The lion's share of the spending bill went to his home state of Alabama. Over the past 2 years, a total of $100 million has been sent to the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. The senator gave $212 million to his state, including a $30 million faculty endowment for the University of Vermont's honors college.
There are research facilities at the University of Missouri in Columbia and an innovation center in Rolla. He has given $6 million to the school for an endowment.
Smart says that there will be missed in Washington D.C. "My guess is that we will get substantially fewer directed expenditures," he predicts, noting that Missouri's two senators oppose the practice on the grounds that it is wasteful.
Few members of Congress have taken a stance like that. The proposal to restore the ban was rejected by a three to one margin.
In Missouri, Blunt will be remembered for his generosity to Michigan State. Allen Temple was the chair of the school's science department for 40 years and was a pioneer in communications technology. The school's trustees decided to change the name of the facility. Temple will be remembered in the new building with a plaque.