NELHA appointment draws fire from DOD

Friday, January 20, 2006

Nelha appointment draws fire from federal defense official

Pacific Business News (Honolulu) – by Clynton Namuo Pacific Business News

The board of the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority is under fire from a Defense Department official in Washington after appointing a new technical director to a federally funded program.

Nelha’s board appointed Richard Hess technical director of the National Defense Center of Excellence for Research in Ocean Sciences — commonly known as Ceros — in November. Soon after, the agency received a letter from Khine Latt, a program director with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, claiming that Hess had been chosen improperly and without her consent.

Hess began work at Ceros last week.

Ceros is based at Nelha, a science and technology park near Kona on the Big Island.

Latt oversees Ceros as a program manager at the federal agency, which funds the program and has a say in who is chosen as principal investigator for the program. Nelha’s board administers the Ceros program and chooses its technical director.

Traditionally, the principal investigator and technical director are the same person and it was expected that Hess would do both jobs, but that may be in question now.

Nelha’s board was surprised by Latt’s complaint and now is scrambling to respond to her after she sent another message last week saying her concerns must be addressed.

It is unclear what Latt will do now. The worst-case scenario is that a different person will have to be chosen as principal investigator at Ceros, leaving Hess the sole job of technical director. Latt did not return calls and e-mails from PBN.

Nelha officials are asking Latt to approve Hess as principal investigator. Hess also plans to meet with Latt next week in Washington.

Ceros is a significant source of maritime research funding. Since 1993, Ceros has funded close to 200 projects for over $71 million. Its operating budget for fiscal year 2006 is $6 million.

In an unrelated matter, Nelha officials have filed an application with the U.S. Department of Commerce to designate the science and technology park a foreign-trade zone to allow businesses there to avoid paying tariffs.

Deep seawater bottlers in particular could be helped by the foreign-trade-zone designation. The bottlers import plastic “slugs,” or small plastic capsules used to make bottles, and must pay tariffs on all of them. This designation would save them from paying those tariffs.

It will take about a year for Nelha’s application to be processed. | 955-8001


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