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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

What a Difference a Photo Op Makes!

From the Bill Wineke Blog

Renewable Energy Lab Rehires Researchers

Do We Really Have an Appropriations Process?

President Bush said in his State of the Union address the government was going to try to lower its dependence on Middle Eastern oil, in part, by improving research on how to make fuel from such stubstances as switch grass, corn stalks and wood chips.

Sharp-eyed reporters -- no doubt aided by government whistle-blowers -- immediately noted that the government has only one national laboratory for renewable energy resources and that the budget for that lab had been slashed and several of its researchers would soon lose their jobs.

All of that was kind of embarrassing since President Bush was traveling to Colorado Tuesday to tout his new energy program at that self-same laboratory.

So, over the weekend, the Energy Department appropriated a quick $5 million to restore the jobs of the researchers (though not to fund the work of the lab, which will still be down more than $20 million).

I would guess that's a good thing. But it certainly raises some disturbing questions, the main one being, do we really just dump $5 million on a lab in order to avoid having the president embarrassed? I mean, presumably the first budget cuts went through a review process. Why was that process dumped overnight? And, if Bush had chosen a different venue for his Tuesday speech, would those researchers still be out-of-work?

We know the answers. The answers are that the $5 million was restored because the Energy Department didn't want the president embarrassed. The remainder of the research funds wasn't restored because the embarrassment wouldn't have been that great.

In the vast scope of the federal budget $5 million isn't all that much. But it does spell the difference between a good job and an unemployment compensation check for a few researchers and the decision was, from anything I can see, completely arbitrary.

bwineke@madison.com Renewable Energy Lab Rehires Researchers

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