A microcosm of government — is stimulus funding at Notre Dame creating jobs or wasting money?

Rusty Weiss Editor, The Mental Recession
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With over $20 billion in funding provided for research and development, universities across the nation are struggling to outline a clear path between stimulus funding, their research projects, and viable job creation.  One such case involves the University of Notre Dame.

A report from the South Bend Tribune shows that Notre Dame has been benefitting nicely from federal stimulus money, having been awarded numerous grants worth nearly $35 million.  Despite a proclamation from the top White House economic adviser that the term “summer of recovery” refers to construction projects, not employment specifically, the Tribune report states that, “None of the money awarded to Notre Dame went to bricks and mortar.”

It barely went toward creating jobs either.  Robert J. Bernhard, vice-president for research at Notre Dame, boasts that, “The stimulus funding has allowed for new hiring, creating the full-time equivalent of about 90 new jobs.”  That’s roughly $386,000 per newly minted job.  The description of those positions varies widely, ranging from full-time research professors to undergraduates working a few hours a week.

When contacted for a more detailed breakdown of these jobs, University spokesman Dennis Brown responded that, “we decided against taking the time necessary to gather the information you’ve requested.”  Perhaps a grant to fund that request is in order?

A more careful look at the data provided to the U.S. government by Notre Dame reveals a significant squandering of funds and little in the way of tangible job creation.  A review of each individual grant award description indicates that a majority of the positions reported actually fell under the category of “jobs retained.”

Adding to the confusion is one grant in particular awarded by the Department of Energy (DOE) for $15.3 million.  In its report, the University utilizes some mathematical trickery.  It cites a total of 23.73 jobs created, while the breakdown features an explanation of 49 prime contractor, subcontractor, and vendor jobs retained.

This manipulation of terminology was previously revealed when the DOE started touting a new measure of stimulus success — the so-called “lives touched” metric.  This metric has been defined as, “. . . a figure that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) uses to track the amount of people who have been positively affected by the Recovery Act funds.”  Being positively affected, according to the Department’s reporting instructions, means the “total number of workers who have directly charged one or more hours of work time to a . . . contract.”  These reports are confusing at best, and intentionally misleading at worst.

Additionally, some of the Notre Dame grant awards raise questions as to their role in employment at all.  One such award, in the amount of $449,895, generated 2.42 jobs according to the government’s recovery.gov website.  A more detailed explanation of these positions shows that two undergrad students and six research technicians were retained, and there was zero actual job creation.

Next page: Notre Dame’s pornography stimulus

Other curious projects funded by the stimulus bill include:

  • The aforementioned $449,895 grant was awarded for the monitoring of grasshopper populations in Montana.
  • $150,000 for studying how weather conditions affect fertility and children’s health and schooling.
  • $165,461 to study historic changes in young women’s access to oral contraceptives and how contraceptives have affected the health of both women and children.
  • $413,249 for student financial aid through federal work-study programs.

Then there is the $190,000 in stimulus and University spending that professor Oliver Collins allegedly used for taking pornographic photographs.  The University claims that Collins, an electrical engineering professor, had requested funds for the purchase of data generators, network analyzers, and signal analyzers, but instead used the money to purchase cameras and other accessories “in pursuit of his personal hobby of photography, including taking landscape and pornographic photographs.”

Despite these already minimal job gains, the outlook of improved employment at Notre Dame grows bleaker still.  When speaking of the ten jobs created by a $10 million nanotechnology grant, Bernhard wonders, “What if the federal stimulus bill hadn’t passed?  If that money hadn’t been available, those jobs wouldn’t be here.”

He then goes on to say that these $1-million-per-job positions are merely temporary.  The only way to keep the jobs, he said, is “by finding new sources of money.”

Perhaps Notre Dame is looking forward to another stimulus.

Rusty can be contacted at www.mentalrecession.com.