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Law Change Allows Cave/ Karst Institute To Freely Find New Partners

By Thomas Guengerich

CARLSBAD, N.M., April 8, 2009 – Recent federal legislation removes a roadblock for the National Cave and Karst Research Institute in Carlsbad to partner with federal agencies.

The 1997 charter law that created the Institute required all federal money to be matched by non-federal money. The new legislation removes that requirement, freeing the Institute to accept federal grants without matching funds.

“This is tremendously significant,” said Dr. Van Romero, vice president of research at New Mexico Tech. “Under the original legislation, the Institute was essentially limited to doing work with the National Park Service. We had just one customer. Now, we can diversify our activity and have a much more stable funding profile.”

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who introduced the founding legislation in 1997, helped write and shepherd the new bill through the Senate.

“Carlsbad’s National Cave and Karst Institute will now be able to pursue additional funding opportunities, which will help it remain competitive in its field," Bingaman said in a press release.

Most federal agencies, like the National Science Foundation, do not require matching money. However, the Institute was hamstrung by its original charter.

“Now, other agencies aren’t burdened to come up with matching funds,” Romero said.
George Veni, the Institute’s director, said the legislation is very important.

“The original intent was good, but it kind of back-fired,” Veni said. “Most organizations that need to work with us are federal. Rather than let us grow, it actually held us back. We were not able to work on the projects and latch onto other funding sources.”

Veni said with the matching funds requirement eliminated, it opens new doors for the Institute. Finding a non-federal funding source to provide matching money is difficult.

Often, potential partner agencies require short turn-around, Veni said. A recent request out of California required project completion in three months.

“We said we’d be lucky to find matching funds within three months,” Veni said. “Sometimes, when we have potential funding sources, the time-frame makes it difficult or unrealistic to take the project.”

Formerly under the National Park Service, the Institute reorganized as a non-profit corporation with three primary partners: the National Park Service, the City of Carlsbad, and New Mexico Tech, representing the State of New Mexico.

The Institute was formed with a mission to promote research, education and stewardship of cave and karst resources nationally and internationally.

In August of last year, the institute successful went out for bid for the construction of a new building. The Institute hosted an official ground-breaking ceremony in November 2008 at the construction site on Cascade Drive in Carlsbad.

Veni said the new legislation signed this week may help with the completion of the building. The Institute had secured federal funding for construction, but because of delays, the price of construction went up but the appropriation did not increase.

Veni said he expects the legislation change to help the Institute complete the construction project and furnish the building with educational exhibits, labs, classrooms and conference rooms. In addition to a research center, Veni said the institute will also be a public science resource.

– NMT –