Obama Stimulus Funds Spent on UNM’s Collection of Insects and Crustaceans; Zero Jobs For Humans Reported
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So you’re out of work with plenty of time on your hands. Drift on over to the University of New Mexico arthropod museum to see how $453,444 in stimulus funds intended for creating jobs for people was spent on critters who wear their skeletons on the outside of their bodies.
On August 21, 2009, the National Science Foundation awarded the University of New Mexico $453,444 in stimulus funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). The purpose of that law was to create and retain jobs and pull the country out of a severe recession. Since the date of the award, UNM has invoiced and been paid $443,611, according to the last quarterly report, submitted at the end of March 2012. (Related story: $335,310 Per Job: The Cost of the Obama Stimulus in New Mexico).
The arthropod collection is part of UNM’s Museum of Southwest Biology. Arthropods are invertebrate creatures with external skeletons, such as centipedes, shrimp, horseshoe crabs, and insects.
According to the most recent report on the project, the nearly half a million dollars has been spent on drawers for arthropod specimens, microscopes and computers to better process the collection’s backlog of arthropod specimens, adding a large number of new specimens to the database and transferring all the collection’s data into a new data base.
Quarterly reports have been filed on the grant since it was awarded in 2009. Grantees of stimulus funds are required to report their activities for each quarter. For instance, in the second quarter of 2010, the work on the project was described as: “Purchase and installation of insect cabinets and drawers, insect specimen processing. Acquisition and curating of material. Reorganization of specimens, beginning curating of backlog.” Billings on the project then stood at $159,888. Billings have now reached almost the full amount of the grant, which is due to expire in August of this year.
Grantees are also required to report the number of jobs in each quarter created or retained by the stimulus funds they receive. Not one job has been reported by the University of New Mexico as having been created or retained at any time in the life of this nearly half-million dollar project.
New Mexico Watchdog sent e-mail inquires to the individuals at UNM listed by the National Science Foundation as being the Principal Investigator and one of the Co-Principal Investigators for the project. We asked them to explain how the money was spent, whether it was used to purchase arthropod specimens, how this grant furthered the goals of the stimulus in lifting the country out of its economic recession, and why no jobs have been reported as being created or retained.
Kelly B. Miller, the Principal Investigator responded. He said that the NSF had initially declined the request for these funds as part of their normal grant review process. UNM was in the midst of reapplying when it was notified that the NSF had stimulus funds it needed to distribute quickly.
How was the money spent? Writes Mr. Kelly: “The bulk of the money was spent to purchase the cabinets, drawers, jars for alcohol specimens, computers and other infrastructure requirements for long term storage of specimens at the Arthropod Division of the Museum of Southwestern Biology which was exceptionally deficient in these needed items. I would note that these collections have significant long-term benefits to the University, the people of the state of New Mexico and science and scientists in general which I would be happy to describe to you if ever needed. No money was spent on acquisitions of specimens at all.”
How did this grant contribute to the goals of the stimulus legislation? “This is difficult for me to assess, though I will say that we spent the infrastructure funds on products produced entirely in the United States such that the US economy received those funds directly. Funds were spent also on student employment (see 3 below) which went directly into the local economy in various ways. Portions of these funds were paid directly to UNM as benefits and tuition for the students. Of course, UNM also has a ~51% overhead rate, so about 1/3 of the total grant went directly to UNM, so I suppose these funds helped the state economy in various ways.” (Mr. Kelly added that the 51% overhead rate does not apply to equipment purchases).
Why have no jobs been reported as being created or retained? “The grant did support student employment (both graduate and undergraduate research assistantships). I didn’t report these as jobs created because I really don’t view them as such. They are temporary, short term, subsidized work-study that pay a low rate. The students would not have been otherwise unemployed, so I didn’t see myself creating jobs. Specifically, I did not recruit students to work on these projects, but rather used the funds to support existing students who would have been supported in other ways had we not gotten the grant. It is possible that on a larger scale my support of these students allowed other students to be recruited in the department or at the university that would not have otherwise been recruited, but that was not my doing.”
The information for this story was obtained from data reported by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, the agency created by ARRA to track spending of the stimulus funds. The grant covered in this story was reported by the Board here. The National Science Foundation’s notice of this grant award is available here.
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Tags: 2009 stimulus bill, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, ARRA, Arthropods, Barack Obama, National Science Foundation, stimulus, University of New Mexico, UNM, UNM Museum of Southwest Biology