Congress gives USF top dollars
By ANITA KUMAR, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- The University of South Florida received $41.4-million in pork barrel projects from Congress this year, more than any other U.S. university, according to a report by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Florida's public and private schools received $117.9-million, which makes the state the No. 1 recipient of such money nationally. The schools credit much of that money to Rep. C.W. Bill Young, the powerful Largo Republican who leads the House Appropriations Committee.
The Chronicle describes the gifts as nothing more than political pork, but Young said all the money was spent on important projects.
"They can call it pork if they like. I don't apologize for any of it," Young said. "I knew our universities had a lot to offer."
In total, Congress directed more than $1.8-billion to specific colleges and universities in the federal budget this year, a record for a noncompetitive process, the Chronicle says in a report due out this week.
That total was 10 percent more than in 2001 and was the largest ever recorded in the 14 years the newspaper has been tracking directed grants, known as "earmarks" in the federal budget.
Critics say these projects circumvent the typical review competitions where winners are chosen by federal agency experts in a particular field of research. Instead, they were approved by members of Congress and aides based on lobbying, personal affiliations or other judgments.
The grants paid for a variety of projects, with the bulk being used for research. About 74 percent or $1.4-billion went to research and 13 percent or $236-million to construction and equipment related to research.
This year's rise was fueled in part by projects to combat terrorism following the Sept. 11 attacks. Congress gave $116-million to schools for 35 antiterrorism projects this year, which is almost double the $60-million awarded in 2001 for such efforts.
USF, for example, received $9-million for a biological and chemical terrorism project and $2.6-million to research defenses against bioterrorism along with Tulane University in New Orleans.
USF lobbyist Kathy Betancourt says Florida universities have long been overlooked in favor of older or more famous schools and that the state is long overdue for this windfall. Last year, the school received $13.2-million and came in No. 21 on the list, according to the study.
"A lot of people don't give Florida the credit it deserves," Betancourt said. "Florida's expertise and talent have been undermined for years."
The median amount given for an individual project decreased from $625,000 to $550,000 this year as lawmakers shared the money with more schools. A total of 668 schools received money, including nine of Florida's 11 public universities and private and community colleges.
St. Petersburg College received $5.6-million, partly to fund the EpiCenter, a $28-million joint project with Pinellas County that will focus on technology and business education in Largo.
The University of Florida in Gainesville received $12.1-million and was ranked 30th on the list of universities with the most pork projects. It received $18.3-million, and was 11th on the list last year.
Florida International University in Miami got $9.5-million, about $8-million more than the year before.
FIU lobbyist Steve Sauls said most of that money given to the school was to continue major projects that began years ago. That includes $7-million to research decontaminating nuclear facilities and $2-million to research companies that move income outside the United States to put profits out of reach of the IRS.
"Why not go to our congressman?" Sauls said. "He makes no commitment. He works it through. And then they make intelligent decisions on what should be funded."
As in past years, the Chronicle found that the distribution of pork seems to be linked with legislators who lead congressional appropriations committees. Young, who represents part of Pinellas County, has delivered millions of dollars in federal grants to his home state for everything from road improvements to beach renourishment.
"I'm not offended by what anyone says," Young said. "We've been fair to universities all over the country."
The Chronicle, a Washington-based weekly, analyzed spending in the federal budget for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. Its report will appear in Friday's edition.
Some of the projects funded by the $41.4-million given to the University of South Florida:
$9-million: a joint biological and chemical terrorism response project
$916,300: research-and-education center on transportation
$440,000: teacher-training program
$3-million: renovate the psychiatry building to expand research, including stem cell studies
$4,736,063: research on oceanographic sensors for countermeasures against mines
$4-million: develop a pediatric clinical-research center in St. Petersburg at All Children's Hospital, one of the university's teaching hospitals
$2,950,000: H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center
$693,915: study use of fiber optics and traffic-management systems along I-4
$2,800,000: research to adapt software for military purposes
Nine state universities received millions
University of South Florida: $41.4-million
University of Florida: $12.1-million
Florida International University: $9.5-million
University of Central Florida: $7.7-million
Florida Atlantic University: $5.5-million
Florida State University: $5.3-million
University of West Florida: $4.4-million
Florida A&M University: $1.2-million
Florida Gulf Coast University: $1-million
-- Source: Chronicle of Higher Education
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