WASHINGTON—Two years ago, having decided to create a microelectronics center to help the area's sagging economy, the Rochester Institute of Technology realized it needed additional funds for construction and equipment. Its president, M. Richard Rose, contacted the Washington lobbying firm of Cassidy and Associates. Last summer Congress specified that $11.1 million from the Defense Department's budget go to the institute for a variety of purposes, including the new center. Today, smocked students are making chips in the clean rooms of the facility.

Cassidy is the most well-known and, by all accounts, most successful of the firms that have taken up academia's urgent pleas for new research facilities. In doing so, they have fanned the flames of the debate over the propriety of "pork-barrel" politics in science, the process by which schools obtain federal money for facilities without any review of the scientific merits of their requests.

The firm was created...

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