Congress Seems to Prefer Close-to-Home Energy Research Centers

congress-cartoonApparently, home really is where the heart is – even when it comes to Congress’ distribution of energy research funds. When Energy Secretary Steven Chu proposed a plan for creating eight “innovation hubs” (i.e. clean technology research centers), Congressmen overwhelmingly favored earmarking funds for research schools in their home regions. The earmarking has many critics up in arms: should the allocation of big-time government funding for big-time energy research be based (as they perceive) on allocators’ favorite schools or locations?

Of the $231.2 million proposed earmarks (for fiscal 2010), about $57.5 million (one quarter) cover the research projects. The bulk of the earmarks already passed in the Senate and House (in July, totaling $33.3 billion, $17.5 million of which were research earmarks).

The New York Times details the debate. Critics’ hang-ups are numerous: they decry an alleged lack of transparency (the Senate [unlike the House] does not require complete disclosure of where the funds will come from and go); the likelihood that the earmarks will become law (once the various spending bills are merged into one); and the earmarkings’ signaling of the “parochial interests” of Congress. The words of Steve Ellis, Vice President of Taxpayers for Common Sense, summarize many critics’ sentiments: “picking the winners and losers based on geography and not who has conducted the best research is a recipe for wasting precious taxpayer dollars.”

Supporters of the earmarks claim the funding would be “big business” for colleges. They also defend the appropriations process, which entails a defense of the receipt, distribution, and use of funding.

Sarah Harper is a professional writer based in San Francisco, California. Her interests include sustainability, government policy, and international politics. In her free time, Sarah enjoys toying with the idea of holistic health, overanalysis, and plotting world exploration.

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