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Public Statements

Higher Edcuation Amendments of 2007

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

HIGHER EDUCATION AMENDMENTS OF 2007 -- (Senate - July 23, 2007)


The Senator from Oklahoma [Mr. Coburn] proposes an amendment numbered 2369.

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the reading of the amendment be dispensed with.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

The amendment is as follows:
(Purpose: To certify that taxpayers' dollars and students' tuition support educational rather than lobbying activities)

At the end of title I of the bill, insert the following:


Each institution of higher education or other postsecondary educational institution receiving Federal funding, as a condition for receiving such funding, shall annually demonstrate and certify to the Secretary of Education that no student tuition amounts or funds from a Federal contract, grant, loan, or cooperative agreement received by the institution were used to hire a registered lobbyist or to pay any person or entity for influencing or attempting to influence an officer or employee of any agency of the Federal Government, a Member of Congress, an officer or employee of Congress, or an employee of a Member of Congress in connection with any Federal action.

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I wish to thank Senator Kennedy and Senator Enzi for allowing me to offer this amendment. Everything I try to do is toward transparency in our Federal Government, because what you cannot measure, you cannot manage.

This is a very simple amendment. What we know is that in the last 7 years, the cost of a 4-year college education has doubled. It has gone from $2,700 to $5,800 at State universities. It has gone from about $10,500 to $23,000 at private universities. The costs have doubled. It is the only thing in this country that is rising twice as fast as the cost of health care. We ought to ask ourselves why.

This amendment is very clear. What it says is if you are a university and you are lobbying Congress, you have to certify to Congress that you are not spending tuition money or other Federal money that you have gotten for a project for your students or for your university in terms of lobbying to get more money.

This, by the way, was excluded from the lobbying and ethics bill we considered. I have some experience on it because last year, as chairman of the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services, and International Security of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, I queried 500 colleges and universities in this country, asking them about their earmarks. I asked them how they spent the money. The interesting thing is only 50 percent of them replied, and of the 50 percent that replied, only half of them actually knew where the money went. The other half didn't dare reply, either because they didn't know where the money went or the money didn't go for the purpose it was earmarked. So we have a grave problem in terms of earmarks.

Let me give my colleagues some statistics about what has happened. First of all, in 2005, $127 million were spent by universities to lobby our institution to get earmarks--$127 million. Divide that and see how many kids we could educate in this country with that amount of money that was spent on lobbying.

What we do know is between 1996 and 2005, the number of earmarks at the Department of Education increased by 29,375 percent. I wonder if that has anything to do with this marked increase of 14.5 percent per year in the cost of a college education.

Those earmarks--the overall cost of the earmarks came to a half a billion dollars a year last year--a half a billion dollars in earmarks. What we also saw--that was in the Department of Education. Then, separate earmarks for separate universities and colleges in the same time period increased from 369 to 1,964, up to $2 billion a year. Now, you would think that for $2.5 billion a year, we ought to be able to see where the money is spent. We ought to have transparency to see.

There are several problems with our earmarking, and the biggest problem is we choose to pick winners and losers. When we do that on research and development at our universities, which are the ones we want to do it to, when we do it, we say that the peer review scientific community shouldn't have any input. That is what we are saying. Consequently, when we spend $2.6 billion on earmarking specific projects at universities, what we are doing is getting a whole lot less value for our money. What we do know is if we let the scientists, through peer-reviewed guidance of scientific discovery, tell us where to go next, we will get two to three to four times return on our research than when I, as a Senator from Oklahoma, decide to earmark a specific research project at a university in the State of Oklahoma.

Now, the question we should be asking--similar to the amendment of the Senator from Illinois--where is the money going to come from? The true deficit last year was $434 billion. That is not what we told the American people, but that is how much our debt increased, so that is what the actual increase in expenditures over the increase in revenues was. If I was a prosecutor, I would love Senator Durbin's amendment, if I owed the money.

But the principle we should be thinking about is this: Why are we having trouble getting the best into the offices of the public defenders and the prosecutors? Because we don't pay enough. What Senator Durbin is attempting to do is a State function. It is an indirect payment. We are going to pay off loans, we are going to have loan forgiveness for this group of people when, in fact, the way we should be enhancing that is having States choose to increase reimbursement for people who fulfill that very worthy task.

So what we are actually doing is jumping all over States' rights, because States haven't increased those fees, as they should, because they don't evidently value it the way the 38 cosponsors of the Durbin amendment do, and we are saying: Time out. It is not your responsibility; we are going to do it. It is the same type of thing we have in terms of earmarks.

This amendment is very simple. Certify to Congress, if you are getting Federal funds and you want more Federal funds in terms of earmarks or grants, that you are not going to spend that money or your students' tuition to come up here to get more money. What you ought to do is use your endowment.

There are some very interesting statistics on endowment that I would like to alert my colleagues to so everybody can be aware. I commend to my colleagues a 2006 National Association of College and University Business Officers Endowment Study.

The top 25 universities in this country have $178 billion in endowments. Now, if they earn 6 percent on that, that is $9 billion a year that they have funds available to them to do research with, or whatever else they want to do. If you take the entire group of endowments, which is some 20 pages long, what you find is a massive amount of money that is endowed.

Why do people give to universities? They give to universities to secure their future because they felt rewarded by the gift they gave them of education. Yet we have almost $1 trillion in endowments in this country in universities, and we are saying we need earmarks. We need extra moneys. Fine. If we do need extra moneys for research, let's let the peer-reviewed scientific community tell us where to go. Let's put the research at the place that it is going to get us the best return, rather than one that has the greatest
political pull. That makes absolute sense to anybody outside of Washington.

Now, it doesn't make sense if you are trying to get something for your university, and University X obviously has the expertise, but you want it at your university. So what do we do? We end up paying double. We are going to fund one that is not as efficient, not as capable, and not as successful at the expense of the university that is far more capable of doing that.

A lot of the university earmarks came about because it was stated they couldn't compete on the grant process; that the major universities--those top 25 research universities in the United States--could outcompete them all on grants. So we did some things when we doubled NIH funding. We did allow for things. What has happened is a pox on our house. We have gone to this large number of earmarks, 2,000 earmarks a year for universities, and we are not getting our money's worth for them.

I come back to one of the reasons I would like for us to consider this amendment: How do you tell a student who is working a second job, who can't afford a tutor, he has borrowed student loans up to his gills and is trying to make it, that a percentage of his university's budget out of his tuition is coming up here to get another earmark that is not necessarily going to be efficient or not going to enhance or advance his education or her education?

So it is real simple. Transparency creates accountability.

I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record four case studies--one from the University of Alaska, one from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, one from the University of Georgia, and one from Iowa State University--on what they have done with earmarks and how they have spent them. It is remarkable.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:

Lobbyist confirms that academic earmarks are indeed a ``gateway drug on the road to spending addiction'': Earmarks are the ``gateway drug to the spending addiction.'' A lobbyist for one of the universities polled (the University of Alaska) agrees. According to a profile of this lobbyist in the Chronicle of Higher Education, ``She equates getting earmarks to having a heroin addiction. `Once you start getting them, it's hard to let go.' '' It's noteworthy that this same lobbyist advised her institution not to respond to the Subcommittee's oversight request on the University of Alaska's past earmarks.

``Martha Stewart, director of federal relations for the University of Alaska, is one who said her institution would not respond.

``Stewart said she showed the Coburn request to the Alaska Congressional delegation, including the office of Stevens, whose clout as an appropriator and earmarker is legendary.

``Answering the letter `would be providing someone with bullets to shoot you,' said Martha Stewart, director of federal relations for the University of Alaska system. She said she assumes that Senator Coburn would use the information to try to block Alaska's requests for earmarked projects--which she declined to describe--from appropriations bills for the 2007 fiscal year, which begins October 1.''

Lobbying for academic earmarks is on the rise: In 2003, it was reported that:

``[T]he brisk rate of growth has outpaced almost all other sectors that pay for lobbyists. That has made higher education one of the biggest players on the lobbying scene in Washington, on a par with defense contractors and ranking ahead of some other large, influential interest groups such as lawyers, labor unions, and the construction industry, according to rankings compiled by Political Money Line, a company that tracks lobbying reports ..... By far the single biggest reason for the spurt appears to be the appetite colleges have for pork-barrel projects. The burst in lobbying came at a time when Congress was quadrupling spending on directed, noncompetitive grants from $495-million to $2-billion. Such earmarks were rare 20 years ago, but the floodgates opened in the late 1990s.''

Even though universities claim to be lobbying innocently for general education funding increases, in fact, this lobbying is often for specific projects: In response to the Subcommittee's questions, a number of universities reported that the lobbyists they hire are to help them reach out to Congress for general issues related to academia and the need for more federal research dollars. But there's some evidence that schools are lobbying for specific projects:

``The Chronicle collected and analyzed lobbying-disclosure reports for all colleges, universities, and other academic institutions for the 1998, 2001, and 2003 calendar years. ..... While the reports are supposed to state the purpose of the lobbying, the wording often mentions federal appropriations generally, not specific projects.

``The reports do show that not all of the academic lobbying is for earmarks ..... But at many colleges, officials don't feel compelled to pay lobbyists to spend lots of time on those and other policy issues because they know places like Yale and Rutgers are already making the case, as are higher-education associations like the American Council on Education.

``Most institutions apparently prefer to concentrate their lobbying dollars on getting earmarks.'' [Emphasis added.]

The resistance universities show to disclosing information about their lobbying activities suggests that they recognize the unsavory nature of this sort of spending. The Subcommittee specifically asked about the use of lobbyists to help obtain earmarks.

The response--or lack of it--was surprising. Despite receiving taxpayer money for special projects, some universities were still unwilling to answer the question. Of the top 50 pork recipients for 2003, and the top 50 R&D ranked universities questioned: 23 wouldn't respond to whether they retained a lobbyist--they simply skipped the question or did not write a letter response at all; 6 said they had ``considered'' hiring a lobbyist, but didn't respond whether they had actually hired a lobbyist or not, and two said they had ``no plan to retain a federally lobbyist at the moment''; 22 stated that they retained a contract lobbyist; 14 stated that they had not hired a contract lobbyist; and 5 stated they had hired a contract lobbyist in the past, but not at the time of their response.


Which comes first--the lobbyist or the earmark? And is either actually a value to a student? At the University of Georgia--it's hard to tell. The university retains a lobbyist who seems to be an expert in the peanut and Vidalia onion industry, among other things, and the University has received federal earmarks for research on Vidalia onions and peanuts. However, because the University is hiding information on those particular earmarks, it's hard for students and taxpayers to judge the educational value of the projects.

In fact, the university tasked its lobbyist with responding to the Subcommittee inquiry. The response was sent from the email account of ``C. Randall Nuckolls, Washington Counsel, University of Georgia, McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP.''

According to the Center for Responsive Politics' website, Mr. C. Nuckolls' firm, McKenna Long & Aldridge, earned $160,000 in 2006 from its contract with the University of Georgia.

In addition, data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics shows that the University of Georgia also paid another lobbyist, Robert Redding, Jr., $40,000-$60,000 each year for the years 2000-2006. In 2006, the University paid $20K for the main university campus and $20K for the University of Georgia School of Agriculture & Environmental Sciences. Robert Redding, Jr., also represents the Georgia Peanut Commission, the National Association of FSA County Office Employees, and the Vidalia Onion Business Council, among others.

In response to the question about its past earmarks, the university supplied the subcommittee with a three page attachment with the titles of only 9 earmarked projects from 2000-2006, the amount of funding, the funding agency, and a short description of the earmark projects. The total value of projects listed was $62.117 million. That's 9 earmarks reported, for the 7-year period from 2000-2006.

However, the Chronicle earmarks database tells a different story. The database lists 53 earmarks distributed over just four of the years in that 7-year period, worth nearly $41 million to the University of Georgia. Information after 2003 is unavailable because earmarks grew so much that the publication no longer had the resources to keep track of them.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Research Service has refused to conduct research in this area, despite repeated requests.

Two earmarks the University failed to report to the Subcommittee come from the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) budget. One earmark, for $200,000 in 2000 was ``for support above what the agency would otherwise have spent, to promote the availability of food in developing nations by educating leaders to manage natural resources.'' The second earmark, for $200,000 in 2000, was for ``for support above what the agency would otherwise have spent, to improve the production, processing, and marketing of peanuts in developing nations as a high-protein food source.''

Even when the university did report earmarks, it grouped them in vague categories, particularly those from the Department of Agriculture. The Chronicle database is more forthcoming about what the university merely described as ``Ag special research grants.'' These types of earmarks come from a pork-slush-fund at USDA, and include the following for the University of Georgia: $16 million from 2001-2003 to conduct ``research to combat fusarium head blight, or scab, a fungus that damages wheat and barley''; $170,470 in 2003 to ``develop the cultivation and marketing of grass-fed cattle raised in the Appalachian region''; $488,615 over three years for ``research on predation by small mammals, such as raccoons and foxes, on ground-nesting game birds''; $657,000 over two years for ``research on pests, soil quality, and water quality related to the cultivation of peanuts''; $800,000 over two years for research on the ``quality of cotton fibers'';
$493,000 over two years ``to study the quantity of water used in agriculture in Georgia''; $1,972,000 over four years for ``research on canola''; $1,800,000 in 2000 for ``unspecified research''; $1,091,000 over three years for the for the National Center for Peanut Competitiveness, ``which works to improve peanut-production methods and product safety''; $694,000 over three years ``for research on tomato-wilt virus, which damages peanuts'' $350,000 over three years ``to develop pungency-testing procedures to improve the quality and ``sensory consistency'' of Vidalia onions''; $64,000 in 2000 to ``to develop better methods of monitoring and controlling termites and ants''.

That's 12 projects under one vague category reported to the Subcommittee as one item. What else is the University of Georgia hiding?


When asked by the Subcommittee to provide a list of past appropriations from the year 2000 to present, and the amount of assistance received, Iowa State University apparently did not have this information available in any form that could be presented to the Subcommittee. The university asked for additional time to comply with the request, along with answering a few of the questions in the initial response.

The university was granted more time by the Subcommittee to complete a response. Three months after the original request date, the university sent a second response letter, a notebook containing summaries of Iowa State University Congressionally directed funding 2000-2006 (minus the requested actual funding amounts), and 6 boxes containing, according to the letter, ``540 published reports, studies, and other materials that had been produced throughout the requested timeframe.''

Quotes from second response:

``I want to thank you for making this request, because compiling this information has proved very useful to the university. We have added this information to our own on-campus process of evaluation and review of federally appropriated projects. To that end, we took great care to make sure that we collected and reviewed all relevant information for our own purposes as well as your request. We regularly go to great lengths to assure the merit and value all university research, but I am also aware of the importance of additional informed review. Following this letter is a compilation of the congressionally directed funding that Iowa State University has received from FY2000 through FY2006.''

The second response from Iowa State University was heavy on detail when it came to lists of published reports (provided only for some projects; others included far less detail), but not when it came to requested information. Only one of the 31 earmark summaries included in the notebook sent by the University contained a table breaking out funding streams by sponsoring agency for the earmark in Question. but even that table did not include the years the university received funding for the project, and the table was rife with acronyms (a practice well known in D.C. and apparently also in the academic world) and therefore not easily decipherable. Only one other project included a paragraph describing the history and origin of the earmark, and some information on the funding stream, as well as details on significant oversight by the lead agency from which the funding originated.

Despite the reams of paper provided by the university, The Chronicle database lists a significant number of earmarks which do not appear in the project summaries provided by Iowa State University. However, what is even worse is the university's lack of responsiveness on the funding for the earmarks they chose to highlight to the subcommittee: the total value of the earmark funding from the Chronicle database for the years 2000 through 2003, is over $83 million. Information after 2003 is unavailable because earmarks grew so much that the publication no longer had the resources to keep track of them.


In response to the FFM Subcommittee's oversight request, the university provided a list of 17 earmarks spanning six years, from 2001-2006, worth a total value of $17.7 million. The university included brief, one sentence ``program objectives'' for each earmark it listed its response. These cursory sentences do not answer the Subcommittee's request for detailed descriptions, findings and accomplishments for each project.

According to the University, 8 of those projects were funded from earmarks handed out over the years 2001-2003 with a value of $6.975 million. However, in contrast, over the same timeframe, the Chronicle database lists 10 non-shared earmarks, and two shared earmarks distributed over 2001-2003, with a total value of a little over $14 million.

According to data in the Chronicle earmarks database, for the three years 2001-2003, the university failed to include and report on the following earmarks funding 6 projects with a total value of $12.593 million. Without Chronicle data, who would know the difference--and who knows for the years 2004 through 2006 since information after 2003 is unavailable because earmarks grew so much that the Chronicle no longer had the resources to keep track of them. Here are the six projects: $3.5 million over three years from the Department of Defenses for ``Research on improving logistics management for the military and businesses, and to develop an executive-education project''; $223,537 from the Department of Defense in 2002 for ``personnel, student internships, research, and other expenses to expand technological education and applications through its KnowledgeWorks Institute''; $2.4 million through NASA over 2002-2003 for ``academic programs at the Science Discovery Outreach Center''; $4 million in 2002 through the Department of Defense for the ``Southeast Atlantic Coastal Ocean Observing System (to be shared with the University of Miami)''; $969,000 from the Department of Energy for ``mathematical and computational research and software development to solve environmental problems''; $1.5 million in 2002 through the Environmental and Protection Agency to ``advance the `one-atmosphere approach' to determining the health effects of air pollution for the university's schools of public health and medicine''

FFM Subcommittee staff received calls and faxed communications from the university's lobbyist, James E. Hyland, who helped to coordinate the response and who forwarded the university's first interim response via fax. According to the Center for Responsive Politics' website, James E. Hyland, ``Career Client List, 1998-2006,'' works for Greenberg Traurig LLP, which had a contract worth in $120,000 in 2006 alone with UNC.

Mr. COBURN. With that, I will cease discussing this other than to say we ought to figure out why a college education and the costs thereof are growing twice as fast as health care, which is four times as fast as everything else in this country. Something isn't right. Transparency is the key to getting accountability for that problem. To vote against this amendment would be saying you don't want the universities to be transparent, to be accountable. I believe they should be accountable and certify to us that not one penny of tuition, one penny of Federal money is spent back here. Mr. President, $127 million was spent last year to lobby this body on university grants and earmarks. We ought to change that. That could educate a ton of our young people.

With that, I yield the floor.

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