'Intelligent' earmarks are good public policy


POSTED: Thursday, March 25, 2010

As one local company among many Hawaii companies and institutions that have received congressional earmarks, we strongly believe “;intelligent”; earmarks—by which we mean earmarks that are 1) publicly disclosed, 2) properly targeted, and 3) capped in aggregate at 2 percent of the federal budget—should not only be continued but be considered good public policy.

In the defense industry we compete in, “;intelligent”; earmarks spur innovation and save taxpayers money.

How? The U.S. defense industry is dominated by six big corporations that in 2008 collectively received $110 billion in defense contracts. Each runs a multi-million dollar PR/lobbying program with permanent offices in Washington, D.C. Collectively, the Big Six largely determine what products and technologies the U.S. military buys. Unfortunately, large corporations have a vested interest in incremental, evolutionary change; “;disruptive”; technologies threaten their existing “;legacy”; products and services. Further, they understandably only promote and offer up technologies invented in-house or supplied through teaming alliances they control.

Meanwhile, small companies like ours consistently invent, research and produce technologies of critical value to the U.S. military, sometimes at a fraction of the cost big, high-overhead defense contractors can do it for. But without “;intelligent”; earmarks, we can't get past the “;gatekeepers”; and show what we can do.

Navatek has invested two decades and over $100 million of its own private-sector funds—augmented at critical points in the R&D process by some timely, “;intelligent”; earmarks secured by Sen. Dan Inouye—to develop its advanced ship hull designs and underwater lifting body technology (inventions that have earned Navatek 22 U.S. and foreign patents).

The results of our dollars and taxpayers' dollars are now beginning to transition to the U.S. military. These game-changing technologies stand on their own, they're world-class, and they address specific, critical, current Navy needs.

In 2008, we delivered two unmanned surface vessels (USV) incorporating our patented Navatek entrapment tunnel monohull (ETM(R)) design. These advanced Navatek craft are carried aboard the Navy's new Littoral Combat Ships and have been featured in national media stories, including NBC-TV and the Los Angeles Times.

In 2009, the Navy started testing at sea that same USV equipped with our patented Navatek aft-lifting body (ALB). This technology could allow a small USV to do a mission that now requires vehicles supplied by the Big Six that cost three to six times more.

A second branch of the U.S. military is also field-testing Navatek's ALB technology on its combat craft because the ALB can radically reduce the slamming and pounding their war-fighters suffer when operating these small craft at high speed. Debilitating, career-ending injury rates currently approach 100 percent for personnel operating these craft for 10 years. Besides keeping more of these few, highly-trained warfighters fit for combat, this Navatek technology could save the government significant money in avoided lifetime disability payments.

The Navy is exploring the feasibility of installing a Navatek bow-lifting body (BLB) on a 170-foot, Navy “;PC Class”; patrol craft. The Navy spends $3.8 billion a year on fuel, and soaring oil prices are forcing them to limit training and fleet exercises, and even reduce operations. Besides improving ship motions, our bow-lifting body has the potential to reduce a ship's fuel consumption by up to 20 percent.

For readers who want to examine the pros and cons of congressional earmarks, see the Harvard Law School study “;Earmarks in the Federal Budget Process,”; at

Michael Schmicker is vice president of corporate communications for Navatek Ltd.