The University of Hawaiʻi and the U.S. Navy have approved the extension of the contract between the U.S. Navy and the Applied Research Laboratory (ARL) at the University of Hawaiʻi until July 2018. There were no other modifications to the existing $44.7-million contract except for its duration. Had it not been extended, the contract would have expired on July 14, 2013.

The Navy had been in discussion with the vice president of research, under whom the ARL falls, for several months about the extension. The contract comes with no funding and provides a cost effective way for the Navy and other federal research entities to conduct research on a “task order” basis with researchers at the university.

The ARL did not have a permanent administrator when it was first approved by then interim President David McClain in 2008. In March 2012, the Navy notified the university that a stronger commitment to utilizing the contract needed to be demonstrated or the Navy would not extend it.

In September 2012, the university hired retired U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Mike Vitale as executive director. Since Vitale’s hiring, the ARL has actively begun to help the Navy understand the significant world-class research conducted at the university and has satisfied the Navy’s concern about the future use of the contract. Since 2008, the ARL has conducted about $7.9 million in unclassified research, consistent with areas of research expertise at the University of Hawaiʻi.

President M.R.C. Greenwood said, “The ARL is very important to Hawaiʻi’s economy. We are working hard to build the ARL’s capacity so it will reach its full potential to help build the state’s research industry and to create more jobs and opportunities. We expect to take research funding there to the next level, under Mike Vitale’s superb leadership.”

Vitale said, “It’s a great honor to be working at the University of Hawaiʻi and directing the ARL. There is significant and important research being conducted here, and it’s exciting to be able to start matching the work of outstanding UH researchers with the needs of the Navy and our country.

There are only four other universities in the nation that have this type of contract with the Navy. They are John Hopkins University, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Washington. Each university is known for its areas of expertise and contracted to conduct research in specific areas. For the University of Hawaiʻi, those areas are—ocean sciences, astronomy, advanced electro-optical systems and remote sensing, and engineering support for sensors, communications, and information technology. The ARL is currently conducting an assessment in conjunction with Pennsylvania State University which, when completed this summer, will add alternative energy to this list.

A UH System news release

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. This controversial issue slipped through in the summer, when faculty and students are largely unavailable for comment. I have several questions:
    1. If the VP for research has been discussing the extension with the Navy for several months, why not let the UH community know about it earlier, so a full and open discussion could take place?
    2. Has the first 5 years of this arrangement brought the promised benefits to UH? Five years ago, we were told it would bring in 50 million dollars. How much has it really brought in, and where did the money go?
    3. Has classified work been done? What impact is that having on the peer review process?
    4. How do our leaders square the secretive nature of ARL’s work and the contract process with the university’s commitment to creating and sharing knowledge, not to mention honest and transparent operation?

    I’m waiting to hear these questions addressed.

    Thank you.
    Kathy E. Ferguson, Professor
    Departments of Political Science and Women’s Studies

    1. Hi Kathy,

      Thank you for your comment. We forwarded it up the chain and received this response from External Affairs and University Relations:

      It was widely known that the contract for the Applied Research Laboratory was to expire in July 2013. Public comment was not required for the contractʻs extension, because the only modification to the existing contract was its duration.

      The contract ceiling is still $44.7 million. To date, the ARL has brought in $7.9 million. These funds were used to reimburse the cost of doing the research as well as reimburse the ARL for its operating expenses.

      No classified work has been done, although this remains an option. The ARL has released all the information it has been able to thus far. The contract requires any release of information to first be cleared with the U.S. Navy.

      With regard to the universityʻs commitment to creating and sharing knowledge, Interim University President David McLain wrote this in 2007, when recommending establishment of the ARL: “Because of the inherent diversity and need for freedom of inquiry which in my view does and should characterize the academy, I tend to be biased in favor of measures to support the individual scholar no matter how popular – even more importantly, how unpopular – his or her research interests.”

      Hope this answers some of your questions!

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