Top

Stop the secret renewal of UH classified naval research center!

July 16, 2013 by  

The University of Hawaiʻi is poised to renew a contract with the Navy to operate a controversial Navy sponsored University of Hawaiʻi Applied Research Laboratory, otherwise known as a University Affiliated Research Center (UARC).

The UARC was approved in 2008 despite fierce opposition and a civil disobedience campaign that culminated in a week-long occupation of the UH President McClain’s office. The UARC was intended to be a no-bid contracting pipeline for UH to receive military research contracts through the classified research center.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

1. CONTACT UH PRESIDENT GREENWOOD ASAP and urge that she not renew the Applied Research Laboratory contract. Request that she instead refer the matter back to the Board of Regents and allow them to review a full accounting of the program and have a public discussion of its risks and liabilities.

2. SUBMIT WRITTEN COMMENTS TO THE BOARD OF REGENTS BY WED. JULY 17th:

3. TESTIFY IN PERSON AT THE BOARD OF REGENTS MEETING ON THURSDAY, JULY 18th,

  • Date: Thursday, July 18, 2013
  • Time: 9:00 a.m.
  • Place: University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center Sullivan Conference Center 701 Ilalo Street Honolulu, Hawai‘i 96813
  • Public Comment Period (3rd item on the agenda): Individuals may orally testify on items on this agenda during the Public Comment Period. Please call the Board office prior to the meeting or notify the Secretary of the Board at the meeting site. Written testimony is also accepted. Testifiers are requested to limit their testimony to three (3) minutes.

BACKGROUND:

Anticipating the expiration of the UARC contract, Keever sought out information about the contract and all task orders performed by UH for the Navy under the UARC through public information requests.  All she got was the runaround. In articles published in the Civil Beat and Hawaii Independent:

Not since the Vietnam War and other protests of 40 years ago had the Manoa campus seen anything like the furor that erupted in opposition to establishing a military research laboratory at the University of Hawaii.

Students and faculty sounded off with blowhorns at assemblies, hung banners from rooftops, held nighttime vigils at the UH President’s mansion and petitioned the Board of Regents at a marathon, six-hour hearing.  With backpacks and sleeping rolls, they swooped up the stairs of Bachman Hall, invaded the president’s office, and settled in for a six-day sit-in and sleep-in that garnered negative headlines around the globe and lured the nation’s leading academic newspaper to send its own staff reporter to the scene.

“The last time the U.S. Navy built a laboratory on a university campus, Franklin D. Roosevelt was president and the United States was a war with Axis powers,” Kelly Field reported to the Chronicle of Higher Education. “Sixty years later, as the nation battles terrorism and an insurgency in Iraq, the Navy is encountering fierce resistance at home over its plans to develop a laboratory here at the University of Hawaii-Manoa.”

When the UARC was proposed in 2004, there was strong opposition to the UARC led by a dynamic coalition of students, faculty and community that raised awareness, mobilized creative actions and occupied the UH President McClain’s office for a week. Kanaka Maoli students and faculty were at the head of efforts to oppose the UARC citing the threat this classified naval research lab posed to UH as a “Hawaiian place of learning”.   The UH Mānoa Faculty Senate, UH Mānoa undergraduate student association, and even the UH Mānoa Chancellor opposed the UARC.  But the UARC, intended to be a no-bid contracting pipeline to funnel military research funds to Hawaiʻi and military research facilities at the Pacific Missile Range Facility, was moved from the UH Mānoa Campus to the UH System level and eventually approved by the Board of Regents in 2008.

GENEALOGY OF THE UARC

The UARC originated with an earlier secretive contract named “Project Kai eʻe”, which means tsunami in Hawaiian. Project Kai eʻe involved UH researchers, the Research Corporation of the University of Hawaiʻi (RCUH), the Office of Naval Research, several admirals and Senator Inouye.  It became the focus of a scandalous Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS) investigation of possible fraud, abuse, and conflicts of interest.

Project Kai eʻe was intended to be a $50 million multi-faceted military research project awarded to RCUH to conduct military research based at the Pacific Missile Range Facility.  As RCUH Executive Director Harold Masumoto reported to the RCUH Board in October 4, 2001:

This may become a major project – about $50 million if funding comes through. As more of these types of projects become reality, there may be a need for a separate entity to manage them because of their focused objectives.

On December 4, 2001, Masumoto reported to the RCUH Board of Directors that:

RCUH was asked to submit a proposal and has done so for an ONR project with a potential price tag of $48 million over four years…A Phase 2 proposal may also be submitted. This project is basically in support of the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai.

At the June 6, 2002 RCUH Board of Directors meeting, Masumoto reported:

Project Kaiee – We are still awaiting award of the contract. In the meantime, we will receive $800k of funding to get started (hiring an Executive Director and a Technical Director as well as some other support/technical personnel). The project will be incubated by RCUH. Plans at this time include evolving it into a UARC (University Affiliated Research Center).

RCUH was involved in providing services for the Navy funding agency as well as using this privileged information to submit the Project Kai eʻe bid.  This raised flags about conflicts of interest issues.   As a result Harold Masumoto moved several “services” contracts to the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research, a quasi-public corporation with historical ties to UH where he also held an executive position.

The NCIS reported that an Office of Naval Research program manager Mun Won Chang-Fenton and Admiral Paul Schultz:

planned to benefit from their NAVSAIRSYSCOM affiliation by orchestrating the award of a proposed contract, N00421-02-D-3151, to a company [they] were developing, Pacific Research Institute (PRI), also referred to as PROJECT KAIE’E’.

Project Kai eʻe or Pacific Research Institute (PRI) was awarded to RCUH at a reduced dollar amount.  It appears that the Executive Director position for the PRI was intended to be filled by Admiral Paul Schultz when he retired.  With the contract in hand, Masumoto posted a job announcement for the Executive Director of the PRI on the RCUH bulletin board for all of ten minutes. Schultz was the only applicant for the PRI Executive Director position.  He was offered the position but stopped short of accepting it.  Masumoto abruptly and inexplicably terminated the contract for the Pacific Research Institute/Project Kai eʻe and returned the money.  Why?
The minutes of the September 27, 2002 RCUH Board of Directors meeting contained only a terse and vague statement about its cancellation:
ONR Project – The proposal for Project Kaiee was withdrawn due to circumstances beyond our control. RCUH will pursue other avenues of funding for these types of projects.
It seems that the NCIS investigation was closing in and Masumoto and Schultz may have been tipped off.  Had Schultz accepted the job, it may have triggered more serious criminal charges. The NCIS investigation led to some disciplinary actions and setbacks for key players, but as one informant noted, “The Navy couldn’t prosecute Schultz and Fenton without implicating 4 Admirals and a State Senator.”
After the demise of PRI/Project Kai eʻe, Masumoto began in earnest to pitch the idea of a UARC to UH Administrators. On October 22, 2002, he reported to the RCUH Board of Directors:

UARC – We are also looking into the establishment of a University Affiliated Research Center and have discussed the matter with President Dobelle and UHM Chancellor Englert.

In a report to the RCUH Board of Directors on March 6, 2003, Vassilis Syrmos, who at the time was a UH professor of electrical engineering as well as RCUH’s Interim Director of Science and Technology, reported:

University Affiliated Research Center (UARC) – The proposal is 99% complete and the UHM approvals are in place to take it to next step which is for Admiral Cohen (Chief of Naval Research) to send it to NAVSEA to designate UHM as a UARC. It is hoped that the UARC will be in place by this summer. Because a UARC functions as a trusted agent of the government, it operates under sole source, multi-task delivery of contracts to perform work primarily for Navy sponsors…. Until UH changes its policy on classified research, such an activity has to be run through an organization like RCUH. Creating a separate 501(c)(3) type organization is another alternative.

The UARC first came to public attention in 2004, when UH faculty raised strong objections to classified military research at UH.  After several years of strong opposition the UH Board of Regents approved a five year contract with a commitment that no classified research would occur on the Mānoa campus and that there would be no classified research in the first three years of the contract.  Keever writes:

Now, fast-forwarding to five years later, Senator Inouye has passed on and on July 14, the UH’s contract expires with the U.S. Navy’s Sea Systems Command, its war-fighting, weapons-development arm.

Without discussion by or disclosure to the public, UH is set to sign a new contract with the Navy. “Because there are no planned changes to the contract other than the timeframe, this modification would be signed by the Vice President for Research with the approval of the President,” according to the response to my e-mail made by a representative of Lynne T. Waters, UH’s associate vice president for external affairs and university relations. UH is now selecting replacements for both the Vice President for Research and for the President.

Before UH administrators sign the new contract, however, the Board of Regents has been urged to have a designated UH administrator explain fully the amount, scope, costs, revenues, locations, outcomes of UH’s ARL-conducted research and the kinds of censorship placed on dissemination of all research results. The Board is scheduled to meet on July 18 at the UH Cancer Center in Kakaʻako.

Alia Wong of the Civil Beat wrote a follow up article exploring the secrecy surrounding the renewal of the UARC contract:

Kitty Lagareta, who chaired the Board of Regents between 2005 and 2007, said she and other regents approved the plan on strict conditions, including that none of the initial research be classified, and after long-drawn-out consultations with stakeholders.

She said regents also called for a review of the lab’s research after a few years.

“An agreement’s an agreement,” she said. “The university ohana as well as the public are probably deserving of some sort of a recap.”

Ian Lind writes:

The secret Navy laboratory set up by the University of Hawaii five years ago, which was sold as a way to tap into a lucrative stream of defense-related contracts, has instead turned into a money pit draining resources from the rest of the UH system.

Lind points out that with both the UH and the Navy failing to respond substantively to Keever’s public information requests amounts to another example of UH’s lack of transparency:

Does Hawaii’s public records law allow the university to fail to respond to a request for public records and instead punt to a third-party, especially when the third party then delays because it kicks the whole request back to UH? At best, it’s unclear.

At worst, it feels like this is another in a long series of examples of UH miserably failing the to live up to standards of transparency mouthed in public by the president and other top administrators.

Keever’s reporting suggests another question. If this secret lab failed to land significant amounts of work while Senator Inouye was alive and pushing for it, what are its odds of turning that around in the absence of his seniority and political clout? And that’s sidestepping the continued opposition on the Manoa campus to the whole project.

In any case, the UH administration really should be providing a relatively full accounting before committing resources for another contract period.

Both Keever and Wong have been unable to confirm whether the UARC would be discussed by the Board of Regents at its July 18 meeting.  The agenda does not list the UARC as a discussion item, but since the contract renewal is a delegated authority to UH President Greenwood, she could have it signed without going to any public discussion or Board decision-making. The public has a right to know the full accounting of the UARC.  Greenwood could refer the UARC renewal back to the Board of Regents for a full review and public hearing.  This seems to be the most ethical and politically wise option for her in order to avoid being saddled with another controversy at the end of her tenure, and to let the Board of Regents take the heat for whatever the fallout may be.

 

 

Comment(s)

Feel free to leave a comment...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!