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Continuing the hunt for funds.

Continuing the hunt for funds

Another university has joined the growing list of institutions seeking research and construction funds by going directly to Congress. Last week, the Senate appropriations committee voted to include $25 million for a new science and engineering technology center at Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe. According to an amendment to the "urgent supplemental appropriations' bill, the funds are to come out "of the amounts available to the Department of Defense' (DOD) for this fiscal year.

"A lot of universities are going this other way,' says Brent Brown, ASU vice-president for university relations. The proposed building is part of a major effort to upgrade the university's engineering program, he says. "We're trying to make sure the effort we've started here is continued.'

In the same bill, another amendment authorizes funding for nine more universities. Late last year, Congress passed legislation that granted $55.6 million to these universities from DOD research and development funds (SN: 3/29/86, p. 196). However, DOD complained that granting these "set-asides' would violate other laws and regulations that require DOD to ensure that universities compete for research contracts. The Senate committee's action circumvents that problem.

Just two weeks before this vote, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger rejected a bid by seven senators to get DOD to release funds for the universities. In a letter to the senators, Weinberger stated, "Support of merit-based research is an important principle which we feel we must uphold.' He added, "The . . . earmarking of research funds for specific universities, without merit competition, establishes a precedent that could jeopardize' the preeminence of U.S. universities.

"The Secretary of Defense took an enormous risk,' says Robert M. Rosenzweig, president of the Association of American Universities (AAU) in Washington, D.C. "I was very pleased by his action.'

The AAU and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges also tried to persuade the Senate committee to reject funding for specific universities. In a letter, the presidents of the two organizations, which represent many but not all of the nation's universities and colleges, stated, "If any of these . . . projects, or others that may be proposed, is funded, pressures on other institutions to seek direct funding for research and research facilities projects will grow.'

"The problem is the longer it goes on and the more instances of it there are, the harder it is for institutions to hold out,' says Rosenzweig. "Nobody wants to be the last in line.' The real issue, he says, is documented in a White House panel report released last week, which looks at the health of university research (see p. 328). "Until that problem is addressed,' he says, "these kinds of pressures are going to pop up all over the place, and in responding to them, serious damage can be done to the whole enterprise.'

The Senate committee proposals have yet to be acted upon by the entire Senate. The House version of the appropriations bill includes funds only for projects at Northeastern University in Boston and at the Rochester (N.Y.) Institute of Technology. Even if the House and Senate agree to fund all the university projects, DOD can still return the money to Congress unspent. But the strength of congressional support so far in favor of this funding may make that unlikely.

In an earlier debate, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who chairs the defense appropriations subcommittee, said there is nothing new about Congress earmarking funds for certain colleges and universities. He and others argue that it's an acceptable way to help universities wanting to improve their research programs.
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Title Annotation:universities seeking federal aid for research
Author:Peterson, Ivars
Publication:Science News
Date:May 24, 1986
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