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Senators Slam MSU for Using Stimulus Money for China Trip

By Beacon Staff

BOZEMAN – A report by two U.S. senators is criticizing 100 federally funded “stimulus” projects — including one at Montana State University and another in Helena — saying the projects have neither created nor saved jobs.

Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and John McCain, R-Ariz., released the report this month and ranked at No. 76 an MSU “field trip to study dinosaur eggs … in China” that reaped $141,002. The senators say nine students were given a six-week, all-expense paid trip to China that was funded by the National Science Foundation.

The report said in addition to examining and cataloguing dinosaur eggs, the students had “plenty of time to let their hair down hiking on the Great Wall” and visiting other tourist destinations.

MSU spokesman Tracy Ellig said researchers at the university who applied for the funding did not know the grant came from stimulus money until they received it.

NSF spokeswoman Dana Topousis confirmed the university’s contention, saying MSU researchers were denied funding during a first round of grants due to budget constraints, but were awarded the money in a second round after the foundation received stimulus funds.

She said that when the NSF got extra stimulus money, it went back to “highly rated” applications that had already been through the review process.

Topousis defended the funding and gave an example of a small NSF grant given to a graduate research student several years ago.

“That guy turned out to be the founder of Google,” she said.

Ellig also defended the China trip, saying it was an investment in the future of America’s scientific leadership.

“Billions of dollars in stimulus money have gone into a huge range of scientific research throughout American universities,” he said. “That’s an investment that could generate an enormous number of jobs in the future from the scientific training given to students and the innovation that comes out of university research.”

Much to Bozeman Mayor Jeff Krauss’ relief, the other Montana project named in the report was not the $49,140 in stimulus money the city spent on tennis courts. Krauss said Thursday he scoured the report looking for the courts, which attracted national attention and caused some friction between the Bozeman City Commission and Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

The other Montana project named in Coburn and McCain’s report was in Helena — $18,500 to refurbish a mural in the city’s Veteran’s Memorial Park band shell. That project ranked No. 42 on the list.

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