In defense of earmarks
Their much-publicized abuse sullies a longtime funding practice that benefits communities -- even saves lives
EARMARKS is considered a dirty word today because some members of Congress abused the system and got caught. Former California Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham used earmarks to steer government contracts to a defense firm in return for gifts valued at more than $2 million. He resigned from Congress in disgrace and pleaded guilty to bribery. Now there is a perception of wrongdoing when a member of Congress "earmarks" projects in an appropriations bill.
Fueling that perception is a recent General Accounting Office investigation, which concluded that too much of the earmarked funds were wasted on research projects that went nowhere.
STAR-BULLETIN / 2005
The Marines unveiled their Mobile Modular Command & Control prototype in September 2005 at Bellows Marine Corps Training Area. The lightweight, self-sufficient system can be flown in by air and deployed rapidly on ground vehicles while providing integrated, over-the-horizon digital command, control and communications. Cpl. Jayson Schemenauer operates the computer inside with Sgt. Joseph Gossman at right.
The abuses get the headlines, but the "bad apples" don't tell the whole story. In fact, earmarking is a way to fund projects that have special applications or meet critical needs. And often, these projects provide long-term benefits to local communities that go beyond "pork-barrel politics." The M2C2 is a prime example of an earmarked project that was needed immediately to protect American lives. The project was completed on time, on budget, met the requirements of its users -- the U.S. Marines -- and reinforced the growing importance of high-tech companies in Hawaii.
The M2C2, which stands for Mobile Modular Communications Command, is an on-the-move communications unit that links ground troops with command headquarters from anywhere, at any time. It combines the latest in satellite communications, digital data and laser technology to create a potent system that is designed to save lives on the battlefield, in natural disasters or in search-and-rescue operations. It also will become a vital weapon in the global war on terrorism. As one Marine commander said, "This would have been invaluable on the march to Baghdad."
The M2C2 prototype program was made possible through Sen. Daniel Inouye's earmark of $5 million, at the request of the Marine Corps, when its initial request for the project was overlooked. The entire program was done locally, with the participation of Marines who helped design and test the M2C2. The prime contractor, Pacific Technologies, completed the M2C2 six months ahead of schedule with a team that included major defense contractors Raytheon and Monitor, Hawaii technology companies and a native Hawaiian organization.
As a decorated war veteran, Inouye put the highest priority on funding projects that would protect America's fighting troops. With the M2C2, the senator also saw a unique opportunity for a new generation of technology companies in Hawaii, an investment of taxpayer money that will generate substantial future returns in community-wide benefits.
The earmarks provided funding not only for M2C2 concept design, but also to get new technology quickly into production. With the success of the M2C2 prototype contract, Inouye has identified $6.5 million to continue the funding to transition M2C2 from prototype to full-scale production. In other words, let's build these life-saving units rather than study them for another five years.
With the continued participation of the U.S. Marine Corps and the Hawaii-based M2C2 team, the M2C2 project provides administrative, technical and professional services contracts for small businesses with salaries comparable to the U.S. mainland, expanding Hawaii's high-tech industry Earmarks can provide the "bridge financing" to get new technology quickly into production.
The M2C2 program started as an "earmark" and was made possible because there was flexibility in the congressional process, and Inouye made a commitment to the Marine Corps and Hawaii's high-tech vision.
Earmarks have their place in the congressional budgeting system. This important funding mechanism can and should ensure benefits to a wider community.
About the author:
David Ushio is president of Pacific Technologies. He recruited the Hawaii-based M2C2 project team and served as the M2C2 program manager.