Four million dollars goes a long way at Glenville State College. It may seem unlikely that the tiny West Virginia institution would see that much federal money in a single spending bill, but that’s about what Glenville got in the 2006 appropriations legislation for science and other programs.
That was just one of dozens of earmarks in the bill, and one of several that set aside more than $1 million for institutions from Mississippi and West Virginia, homes of the Republican chairman and the ranking Democrat, respectively, of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Whether earmarks -- funds that a member of Congress directs to recipients without the peer-review process that federal agencies use to dole out most research funds -- are dangerously and increasingly undermining peer review, or simply a way that legislators can look out for constituents, depends on who’s talking.
The question, however, has been put into greater relief for higher education officials in the wake of a letter from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.)