IN HIS ENTHUSIASM for cutting the District's budget beyond reason, Sen Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) has come up with a cumbersome amendment to the District's appropriations bill that could seriously upset the construction plans for the University of the District of Columbia. The senator has proposed that the university be required to have its complete master plan approved by both the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees before any of the $56 million for construction of its new Mt. Vernon campus is released. The appropriations conference committee is now considering his proposal.
On the face of it, the request looks reasonable enough. Sen. Leahy wants to make sure that the UDC plan is sound before any money is spend. Given the confusion in years past over that plan - and the revisions that have been made recently by the university's board of trustees - the idea of keeping a close watch on the progress of the school makes sense - in theory. What gives us pause, however, is the practical effect, in all likehood, of the oversight that the senator has recommended. Sen. Leahy seems to believe that both subcommittees will be able to review and approve UDC's plan before January, 1978, the target date for the Mt. Vernon campus groundbreaking. Now, we would like to think that the subcommittees would move on this matter with as much dispatch as the Congress just demonstrated in passing the recent continuing resolutions for the Departments of Labor and HEW. But we rather suspect that was one of those exceptions that only prove the rule. And if that turns out to be the case and the subcommittees don't act quickly enough to permit groundbreaking to start on schedule, as much as $400,000 per month could be expected in cost overruns. We further suspect that this extra money would not be included in the congressional appropriations if the review continues past the first of next year.
We think that there is another way to check up on the university's master plan for construction without having it hung up in congressional committees, and that is for the mayor and the city council to review it and give it their formal, final approval. For the past several months, the city has been working with the university on some reasonable estimates of student enrollment and capital construction needs. It would seem reasonable to hold the city's highest authorities responsible for the university's proposals, rather than have Congress impose yet another layer of time-consuming oversight. If the Congress wants to review the progress of the university's development plan, it will have more than ample chance to do so during its examination of next year's city budget - when there will still be time to make changes in the university's plans. Right now, it seems to us that the new university should be given a chance to consolidate its scattered downtown "campus," break ground for the construction of needed facilities and get on with the business of educating its students.