Congress approved a bill last week providing the public easier access to information about federal academic contracts and grants – including those financed through bill earmarks – through a Web-based search engine. Access to this database will no doubt help America’s scholarly research institutions. The need for such a system, however, underscores a general lack of cohesive higher education policy at the top levels of government.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, lawmakers created the new search engine to replace a number of existing unreliable and complicated ones. While some members of Congress have publicized how the new directory will help highlight wasteful government grants, the real challenge lies in streamlining the system of federal funding for academic research.
A massive directory for government grants indicates the bureaucratic nightmare that higher education institutions face in vying for federal money. The fact that the previous system of databases did not reflect grants mentioned in earmarks, or sometimes unrelated additions to bills, highlights the complicated nature of this system.
Rather than creating new databases to guide institutions through the complicated federal grant system, Congress should consolidate funding in a holistic vision for America’s research agenda. Grants should be made available through specific legislation outlining research goals and priorities. Government officials should also stop providing funding through additions to legislation about which the public is usually unaware.
A new database alone is a poor plan to improve higher education in this country. Lawmakers must seriously consider America’s research priorities rather than tweaking the current system prior to an election. If these sort of shortsighted tactics continue, we may find our academic institutions lagging behind a vast number of more competitive schools around the world.