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STEM Earmarks in 2023 - House

A run down of STEM related community funded projects.

Alongside R&D appropriations, the 2023 budget also includes earmarks, renamed Community Funding Projects (CFP). They were brought back into practice last year after a ten-year hiatus with several new rules to keep them in check, discussed below. The number of earmarks submitted by the House increased this year, from 3,000 in Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 to 4,700 in FY 2023. These earmarks add up to over $8 billion across the nine appropriations bills that accepted submissions.

AAAS read through the earmarks for each bill and identified those with a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) focus. This includes, among others, the purchase of new equipment, development or expansion of education programs, funding facility renovations, increasing job training in STEM-heavy fields, and the establishment of entirely new programs or institutions. A brief review of these is below, but you can also see the interactive map to explore these requests for yourself. 

What's an earmark?

Most STEM-relevant federal funding is allocated through grants, contracts, or formulas administered by federal agencies, often after some form of merit review. Earmarks are a way to expedite funding on needed projects by letting legislators direct funding to specific entities.

The practice has historically been controversial, so much so that Congress banned earmarks beginning in 2011. They returned in 2021under a new name and with a set of rules that legislators argue will enhance transparency. Earmarks are now capped at 1% of discretionary spending, each representative can only submit 15, and they cannot be directed toward for-profit entities. Additionally, not every subcommittee can allocate funding towards earmarks, and the agencies and departments whose funding can be allocated are limited as well. This year 10 of the 12 subcommittees were eligible for earmark requests, though only 9 contained STEM-relevant ones.

How many project requests are STEM-focused?

We analyzed the full list of 4,761 projects for relevance to STEM research, education, workforce development, or infrastructure. In the STEM education and workforce categories, degree programs that have the potential to contribute to research and innovation were counted, which includes many healthcare and manufacturing fields. We excluded projects without a clear and specific STEM focus, which included broad educational programs that did not state a STEM focus, operation and expansion of healthcare facilities that did not have a research purpose, and one-off climate change remediation projects. As one might imagine, there were many borderline cases; we used our judgment as best we could.

Our review turned up 305 projects totaling $728 millionYou can explore them in this dashboard.

The median project size is $1.3 million, but there was some variability. Additionally, many subcommittees appear to have capped the project cost to $2.2 million, though not all did. In fact, the largest project is a $97 million earmark by Rep. Michael Waltz (R-FL) for renovations to a Space Force Base in Florida. The smallest project is a $40 thousand expansion of an afterschool program that includes STEM education by Rep David Scott (D-GA).

A bar graph showing the dollar value and total number of STEM-related earmarks in each subcommittee, in descending order.

Labor HHS is the largest source of STEM-related earmarks this year as well as the biggest dollar value, funded out of the Department of Education. The largest portion of Labor HHS’s earmarks were for programs looking to expand or create healthcare worker training programs. Also substantial were cybersecurity training programs and STEM programs in schools.

Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) was second in total dollar value, largely due to five earmarks over $10 million a piece that outlined major construction of new facilities. This included a $20 million expansion of the MURR facility by Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) and the construction of a new science building at Claflin University for $17.5 million by James Clyburn (D-SC). The average cost of a request in CJS was $3.6 million, and even excluding these five large requests, the CJS average earmark was higher than the overall average.

A breakdown by project category

We further organized projects into categories based on the type and purpose of the project, including research capacity and equipment for defense, agricultural, or medical research; economic development; and multiple categories of STEM education projects. None of these perfectly map onto the subcommittees cited above. It's also important to note that few requests proposed direct funding of basic research projects. Instead, lawmakers generally requested funding for equipment, facilities expansions, or programmatic support of activities that would support research capacity.

For those that straddle multiple categories, we again used our best judgment. The breakdown by total funding requested is below. These categories also appear in the dashboard.

A bar graph showing the dollar value and total number of STEM-related earmarks in each project type, in descending order.

The majority of requests were for degree capacity expansions, whether through improved facilities, instrument upgrades, or, in some cases, salaries and stipends. The most prolific degree was healthcare, with an estimated 41 degrees or certifications requesting expansion. Cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing programs were tied with 17 earmark requests each. Many of the previously mentioned large construction projects in CJS also appear in this section as they are new university buildings.

Defense earmarks, while not numerous, were the second largest dollar value. Even excluding the $97 million request, the average request for defense related earmarks was $4.2 million, more than three times the total average.

Coming in last are agricultural requests, notable as last year they were the majority of earmarks. This year many of the earmarks out of the Agriculture subcommittee were also focused on workforce development or university infrastructure, with only a few aimed at agricultural research.