Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Pork-Barrel Fat Pads NASA Budget

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Pork-Barrel Fat Pads NASA Budget

Article excerpt

THE National Aeronautics and Space Administration's new budget is lean and mean. Some long-planned NASA projects are terminated, delayed, or curtailed. But those who read the details in the budget as voted by Congress can find a list of goodies they might not expect to be there.

How about $20 million for the Christopher Columbus Center for Marine Research in Baltimore? NASA officials may not have realized they are in the oceanography business, but they're in it now.

The money goes to the home district of Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) of Maryland. She tried and failed to sneak this tidbit into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric budget last year. But since she chairs NASA's Senate appropriations subcommittee, she had no trouble getting it into orbit with the space agency this year. Never mind that Congress also trimmed the space-shuttle operating budget to the point where NASA officials wonder if they can make full use of the new orbiter Endeavor when it debuts next year.

It's academic pork-barrel season once again. Some representatives and senators are sending money to the folks back home in the guise of worthy scientific projects, even though no qualified scientist has assessed their merits.

This has become an annual ritual since the practice began a decade ago. And critics - including this columnist - have just as regularly denounced it as damaging to the strength and quality of the United States scientific enterprise. That damage has grown over the years. It is particularly bad this time for NASA, given the severe tradeoffs that went into its new budget.

So even though it has become an old story, the practice of congressional earmarking of scientific funding needs to be strongly condemned again. Rep. George E. Brown Jr. (D) of California has delivered some of the most damning criticism.

NASA's budget contains some $137 million of pork-barrel projects, which, Mr. Brown said, "were never requested by the administration, never authorized, and never discussed on the floor {of Congress}. …

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