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Cornell University – University or Lobbying Organization: keeping busy in Washington, D.C.

May 29, 2010

WASHINGTON — Dianne Miller is the face of Cornell University in Washington.

Ithaca Journal. Article by Brian Tumulty

Miller spent seven years working for Rep. Maurice Hinchey, helping to process Hinchey’s special funding requests — or earmarks — for Cornell and other institutions in his congressional district.

She now works for Cornell, maximizing the amount of federal money that flows to Cornell by working with Hinchey and his staff, the state’s two senators and other members of Congress to identify grants and earmarks.

Cornell is among a small group of universities in New York that lobby from Washington offices, staffed by employees, rather than outside private lobbyists.

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But even among that group, Cornell is different.

New York University has its own Washington office, but the university’s medical school and law school hired outside lobbyists last year, too. The State University of New York system reopened its Washington office in 2007, but several campuses have continued their contracts with lobbyists.

Cornell’s office does it all.

“We are the principal contact for federal relations for Cornell University,” Miller said. “That includes the medical campus in New York City and it includes cooperative extension, to some extent.”

Miller is based in the Hall of the States office building two blocks from the U.S. Capitol, where she works alongside Karen Loparco, Cornell’s federal relations associate.

Cornell’s office provides a workspace for visiting Cornell administrators and faculty and serves as a consulting resource for lawmakers in Washington. Miller and Loparco also coordinate a lecture series for Hill staffers, scheduling briefings by Cornell experts on public policy issues such the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas and trends in the dairy industry.

Cornell spent $253,000 on lobbying last year, ranking seventh in the state behind the State University of New York system, Columbia University, the New School University, the University of Rochester, Syracuse University and the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Much of Cornell’s $400 million in annual federal funding comes from competitive grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the Defense. 

But some federal funds not awarded competitively are important to Cornell’s operation as a land grant university.

Cornell requested at least 14 earmarks this year. Earmarks can be requested by just one member of Congress, but often two or more members join forces to request them.

Most earmark money that Cornell asked for this year is for ongoing programs funded by the Department of Agriculture. Two are funded by the Commerce Department and two are construction requests on behalf of USDA research labs.

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One earmarked program funded through the Department of Transportation is a 6-year-old biofuels program authorized in the last farm bill. Cornell is one of five national centers for this research, managing competitive grants in 13 states to schools such as Ohio State and Penn State. The money is drawn from the federal Highway Trust Fund which, in turn, is financed through federal gas taxes.

Most of Cornell’s research in this area is for cellulosic research.

The Commerce Department earmarks are for the National Textile Center, an eight-university consortium funded through the International Trade Administration, and six regional climate centers that include Cornell.

The livestock and dairy policy special grant, an earmarked program shared with Texas A&M, funds the Cornell Program on Dairy Markets and Policy, which analyzes proposed changes to dairy policy and works with the Congressional Research Service and USDA.

 

Another earmark target is the Food Safety Research Consortium in the Department of Food Science, which provides a national database of salmonella and E. coli strains to track which ones make people sick.

Miller said agricultural research operates on a more parochial basis than health and basic science research.

Department, the Department of Agriculture, and Environmental Protection Agency . The lobbying office doesn’t have much involvement in those , according to Miller.

“In the biomedical community, you don’t see the cancer people saying we want $3 billion for cancer. You hear them saying we want $32 billion for NIH,” she said. “But in the USDA community they say we want this much for food safety and this much for nutrition and this much for plants and this much for animals. And so nobody says we want this much for agriculture research.”

Miller agrees Cornell’s earmarks could be converted into competitive research grants if Congress chose to overhaul its budgeting process by increasing the pool of money for research in agriculture and other areas.

“We struggle with that at Cornell,” Miller said. “On one level, we believe if a lot more money went into competitive grants, that we would do an outstanding job and we would compete very well and get our fair share and maybe even more.

But on the other hand we have a lot of programs that that are funded through some of the formula programs and some of the smaller lines in the budget that are unique to New York and wouldn’t score well in a national competition.”

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