Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Well That Explains That

As I noted the other day, the Penn State Propaganda Portal put up an oblique belated defense of the University's Electro-Optics Center against charges of corruption. Or at least I thought it was an oblique belated defense.

The story of a lobbying scandal at the Center was broke by Politico in mid March of this year. A second story on the scandal came a few days latter in the Washington Post. It wasn't until May 18th that the Propaganda Portal got around to its defense of the Center. The Propaganda Portal didn't even mention the lobbying scandal. It simply touted the Center's job creation and impact on the economy. It turns out that this bit of propaganda wasn't in response to these earilier stories, rather it was a response to a May 17th Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story which contained critisism of the Center as an engine of job creation.

While the Electro Optics Center performs ground-breaking work in lasers, optics and crystals for defense applications, critics said it also has become too entangled with congressional appropriations and developed close ties with lobbyists from a defunct firm that is at the center of a federal corruption probe. They complain, too, that the center has not created economic growth that will outlive its prime sponsor, Mr. Murtha.

The center -- commonly known as EOC -- began as an offshoot of Penn State's defense-oriented Applied Research Laboratory but branched out into a semiautonomous operation with a budget in the tens of millions.
Almost all of its funding has come with the support of Mr. Murtha, whose district includes portions of Armstrong County and whose post as chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee allows him to target defense funds to projects in his district.

None of the interviews conducted and documents examined by the Post-Gazette suggest illegality on Mr. Murtha's part. Rather, they raise questions about whether the center, touted as an economic engine for Western Pennsylvania, is growing businesses that would remain in the district after Mr. Murtha, who is 76, disappears from the political scene.


Ray Hettche, former head of the Applied Research Lab, said his original concept when spinning off EOC more than a decade ago was a clearinghouse that would solicit proposed technical projects from the U.S. Navy and bid them out to a pre-determined pool of contractors. Mr. Hettche, now retired, said he felt himself forced out from any role with EOC after meeting resistance from private industry partners who wanted to expand from his original vision.

"They sort of corrupted the whole system," said Mr. Hettche. "People started to use it as an earmark mechanism."

He said he warned university officials about the problem but was brushed aside. Eva Pell, senior vice president for research at Penn State, who has oversight on EOC, said she was aware of Mr. Hettche's concerns about the center.

"Let me just say to you that the lab has matured a lot since Ray Hettche retired. Around the time Ray Hettche retired I'd say it was probably going through some growing pains," Ms. Pell said.

Go read the whole story. It doesn't paint a pretty picture.

By the way, neither the Collegian nor the CDT has mentioned any thing at all about this scandal.

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