About a year ago, James O'Brien filed a grant renewal application to support this year's summer program to put five minority undergraduates to work in his scientific labs. A professor in oceanography and meteorology at Honda State University in Tallahassee, O'Brien had received the annual $50,000 grant from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) for several years and expected its renewal to be routine. But a snafu at the federal agency slowed the renewal, so that by May 1, as the students began arriving from around the country to start work, the promised money hadn't reached O'Brien's office.

Under normal circumstances, O'Brien might have gone into a panic wondering how he was going to feed five new mouths until the grant-givers got their act together. Instead, during a mid-May interview, O'Brien was worry-free and more than a little thankful that his school is one of 21 institutions participating in a...

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