Lobbyists focus on issues, not on ‘earmarks’

The visa-reform issue has topped Yale President Richard Levin’s agenda this past year, drawing publicity during a visit from Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge in October. But Yale’s lobbying efforts also extend to other areas such as federal funding for science research, appropriations for student aid and intellectual property law, continuing the University’s push for favorable policies.

The University’s federal relations office coordinates its agenda with individuals at Yale, Connecticut’s Congressional delegation and national educational organizations. But the issues most of concern to the University, including tightened federal spending, proposals in Congress to curb peer-to-peer file sharing and restrictions on foreign visitors to the United States implemented by the Bush Administration after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, often follow the events in Washington. The success of University lobbying campaigns is often determined by the nation’s domestic and international agendas.

A Chronicle of Higher Education survey of 568 colleges and universities found that last year, the higher education community spent $61.7 million on lobbying, more than double what it spent five years ago. The study attributed the increase in total spending largely to universities lobbying for “earmarks,” projects to benefit programs and developments on individual campuses.

Last year Yale spent $380,000 in lobbying funds — an amount that ranked the University 19th in the survey — while continuing what Yale Director of Federal Relations Richard Jacob said is the University’s long-standing policy to not pursue the so-called earmarks. Instead, Yale lobbies for the allocation of funds on the basis of merit, Jacob said.

“While Congress can and should exercise oversight, the question of what projects should be funded in the scientific community really ought to be something Congress is delegating to the scientific community,” Jacob said.

Yale’s lobbying efforts also function at the grass-roots level. Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology chairman Thomas Pollard, who chairs a national group of 4,000 scientists mobilized to contact congressmen about legislation, said decisions made in Washington have a direct effect on laboratories at Yale.

Over the past five years, federal research funding for MCDB doubled along with the budget of the National Institute of Health, which funds most MCDB research initiatives. The science community at Yale also follows over-arching federal regulations, such as those on foreign-born students in the United States, Pollard said.

Pollard said he thinks the University’s lobbying efforts function well because Yale administrators, graduate and post-doctoral students and national associations all work well together.

“It’s great that everybody is on the same page right now,” Pollard said

Yale General Counsel Dorothy Robinson said the University’s federal relations officers acknowledge the importance of working with other facets of the University, consulting Yale Corporation fellows, faculty members and deans when crafting the University’s lobbying position. The University is also a member of several national organizations — the Association of American Universities, the Science Coalition and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities — which bring together universities so they can approach the government with a unified stance.

“Virtually all of [Yale’s lobbying] is done in some type of a coordinating effort,” Robinson said. “There’s really a longitudinal process over time.”

But the University’s lobbying efforts are not without occasional disappointments. Congress recently voted to cut the National Science Foundation’s budget by 1.9 percent for next year, turning down the Bush Administration’s request for a 3.0 percent increase in the funding.

Excluding the Yale School of Medicine, NSF grants make up about a quarter of research funding at Yale, Pollard said. Levin, an economist by training, said the capacity of American universities conducting scientific research has had an enormous impact on the economic prosperity of the United States.

“To cut back substantially on scientific research, I think, would be very short-sighted for the nation,” he said.

AAU spokesman Barry Toiv said the AAU had been expecting restricted federal spending on research because of the recent deterioration of the fiscal situation in Washington.

“It’s not a big surprise,” Toiv said. “We’re facing a period where we are going to just have to figure out how to make sure that the investment in research and the investment in higher education are given the priority that they deserve.”

Federal relations officers at other leading research universities said that they think working through peer institutions is the best way to enact change. Harvard University Vice President for Government, Community and Public Affairs Jane Corlette said Harvard works closely with other universities on issues of common concern, along with other non-profit institutions such as hospitals and charitable groups.

Princeton University Director of the Office of Government Affairs Diane Jones said she and her colleagues are able to put institutional differences aside and work well together.

“In politics, coalitions are the best way to get things done,” Corlette said.

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