WASHINGTON-The Association of American Universities has brought together university administrators and congressional staff in a new effort to stop the growing practice of lobbying Congress to obtain funds to build academic research facilities. Known by its detractors as pork-barrel politics, the approach has long been a favorite among those seeking dams, federal buildings and highways. Since 1983, however, it has become the favored route for dozens of universities and research facilities that have been unable to negotiate the bureaucratic maze of hearings, studies and authorizations that precede the granting of appropriations.
The issue came to a head last summer after the Senate approved $55 million for nine facilities over the protests of numerous educational and scientific organizations. In response, the Association formed a 10-member committee, headed by University of Chicago Chancellor Donald Langenberg, to study how future decisions "can be based on informed judgments of intellectual quality while recognizing other legitimate interests." The group held its first meeting Oct. 3, and has been asked to issue a report by Dec. 1.
The inclusion of staff from House and Senate subcommittees that handle health and education authorization bills and from the personal staff of Senate Commerce Committee Chair John Danforth (R-Mo.) is meant to make the re port more salable to Congress. (All three missed the first meeting because of the crush of business before adjournment.) John Crowley, director of federal relations for science research, said the Association "tried to strike a balance" in selecting the panel and that "nobody on it is there to argue for a particular perspective." However, the Association and the co-sponsors of the group-the American Council on Education, the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, and the Council of Graduate Schools in the United States-have all taken strong stances against pork-barrel projects.