Rep. Young helps steer $42-million in federal funds to the university. Only one school got more.
By ANITA KUMAR
Published September 24, 2003
The University of South Florida scored higher in a new national ranking than the University of Florida, MIT or even Harvard University.
The category: federal pork. Though USF lags far behind those others schools in research prowess, it has something they don't: a congressional patron.
Rep. C.W. Bill Young, the powerful Largo Republican who heads the House Appropriations Committee, helped bring $42.9-million in pork barrel projects to USF this year.
That put USF behind only New Mexico Tech, an institution with just 1,800 students but an angel all its own - U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The annual report, released this week by the Chronicle of Higher Education, describes the gifts as nothing more than political pork. But Young said Tuesday he doesn't mind what people call it as long as the money helps universities fund important projects.
"Florida was overlooked too often for more well-known schools that were better connected politically," said Young, whose clout helped bring USF a No. 1 ranking last year.
"It wasn't until we started to fund their projects that people began to realize the Florida system has a lot to offer," he said. "They've come into their own."
Florida's public and private schools received a total of $130.6-million this year, making the state the top recipient nationally for the second consecutive year.
As in past years, there was an obvious connection between the pork and influential members of Congress, especially those who sit on the appropriations committees. Young, who has chaired the House Appropriations Committee since 1999, has delivered millions of dollars to his home state for everything from road improvements to beach renourishment.
St. Petersburg College was a major beneficiary this year. It finished third among Florida schools, with $14.8-million. Much of that money will be used to train law enforcement and military officers in terrorism preparation and drug countermeasures.
SPC easily outpaced UF, the state's traditional research powerhouse. UF received $8.8-million, or about one-fifth of USF's total.
In all, Congress directed more than $2-billion to specific colleges and universities in the federal budget this year, a record for a non-competitive process, according to the Chronicle.
That total was 10 percent more than in 2002 and was the largest ever recorded in the 14 years the Chronicle 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 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.
This year's increase was again fueled by projects to combat terrorism. Congress gave $223-million to schools this year for such projects, up from $126-million in 2002 and $73-million in 2001.
This year, USF is leading a team of state schools that received $7.7-million to provide countermeasures to biological and chemical threats.
Other USF projects include: $5.1-million for chemical, optical and mine countermeasures; $3-million for brain repair; $400,000 for teacher development, recruitment and retention; and $250,000 for rapid bus transit technology.
"We're pleased with congressman Young's commitment to building our research universities," USF president Judy Genshaft said. "These are the kind of research funds that are important to the nation."
A total of 716 schools received money, including 10 of Florida's 11 public universities. The single largest amount for a project, $21-million, was given to New Mexico Tech for an optical astronomy observatory.
The Chronicle, a Washington-based weekly, analyzed spending in the federal budget for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.
The universities that led the nation in winning federal money for fiscal 2004 differ in research specialties, but share one important trait: Each of the top schools is in a state or region represented in Washington by a powerful member of Congress.
THE TOP FIVE SCHOOLS AND THEIR CONGRESSIONAL PATRONS:
1. New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology: $56.1-million. (Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., is on the Appropriations Committee.)
2. University of South Florida: $42.9-million. (Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Largo, is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.)
3. Texas A&M University at College Station: $42.9-million. (Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, is the House majority leader.)
4. University of Hawaii-Manoa: $30.6-million (Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, is on the Appropriations Committee)
5. Dartmouth College: $29.5-million (Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., is on the Appropriations Committee.)