Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Follow-up on 2nd Congressional District earmarks in 2007 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations

Porkopolis continues to research the earmarks designated for the 2nd Congressional District of Ohio in the 2007 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Bill (H.R.5647: details of the earmarks can be found in the House Report 109-515).

One of the earmarks was for $350,000 at Shawnee State University for purchase of equipment at the Motion Capture Facility in Portsmouth, Ohio. This is on top of of $1.05 million earmark already designated in H.R. 5427 (House Report 109-474 contains the details of the original $1.05 million earmark).

H.R 5427 is titled "Making appropriations for energy and water development for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2007, and for other purposes." H.R.5427 has passed the House and is currently on the Senate's calendar for consideration.

Congresswoman Schmidt has taken credit and has yet to respond to a request for information on the original earmark or the follow-up earmark. All together, Shawnee State University has been designated to receive $1.4 million for a Motion Capture Facility.

Jeffrey Perez, Executive Director for Communications and Legislative Affairs at Shawnee State was contacted via email and asked to respond to the following questions on the proposed spending (both the $1.05 million original earmark and the $350,000 add-on):
  1. Why did the college find it necessary to request that federal dollars be spent for this project rather than state and tuition dollars?
  2. Is there a formal spending request proposal that can be made available?
  3. If the funding is received, what oversight will the college be required to provide to assure that the expenditure is properly made in the interest of U.S. taxpayers.
  4. Have any contributions been made to Ms. Schmidt's campaign by any individual(s) at Shawnee State associated with this request for federal spending?
  5. Why is the college requesting an additional $350,000 in H.R.5647 (the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill)?

Mr. Perez's complete response is provided here with his permission. Note that question 2 was not addressed in Mr. Perez' response. Mr. Perez was given a second opportunity to address this outstanding question when permission to print his original response was sought. His response to the second request was:

If you post my response, which is extensive and all I have for you, please do so in its entirety.

What follows is Mr. Perez's original response, complete and unedited (except for direct phone contact information):

I apologize for getting this e-mail to you a day later than I wanted, but I was awaiting fiscal information I thought you might find useful.

As you live in Cincinnati, you may not be familiar with Shawnee State, which I’d like to rectify. I invite you to visit our campus and see the work of which we’re very proud. However, should you be unable to make the trip, please accept the following description of the university and our motion capture facility project.

Our goal is to be a high quality regional university that provides our students, most of whom are from Appalachia, with an opportunity for a better life through a university education.

Fully two-thirds of our incoming freshmen are first-generation college students, and the majority of our graduates remain in the region upon completion of their studies.

Shawnee State currently has an enrollment of 3,800, but we are looking to grow so that we may offer more Appalachians the opportunity of a university education. To provide access, we offer the second lowest tuition in Ohio – only Central State University is lower. For the upcoming school year our undergraduate tuition will be $5,832.

We consider it part of the university’s mission to play a role in the economic growth of Appalachia so that our graduates will have careers without leaving the region. Part of that effort is a motion capture facility that will elevate Shawnee State’s nationally recognized programs in Digital Simulation and Gaming, and Game and Simulation Development to world-class status, and, by attracting corporations to the region, serve as an engine of economic development.

As a learning lab, the motion capture facility will provide students with the opportunity to learn advanced software design and development, and their training in the operation of the equipment will provide them with highly marketable skills and experience. Shawnee State will provide companies with a steady supply of highly trained and well-educated employees.

The facility will attract companies to the region. There are few facilities offering what we envision, and the potential applications of the technology are almost unlimited. About 70 percent of all the work in the United States using motion capture technology is in fields other than entertainment, which itself is a $12 billion business. These include medicine, defense, police and fire departments, education, and construction. Thus, besides acting as a learning lab for our students, the facility will be sought after for commercial use. Once companies become familiar with the low cost of operation and the high quality of employees, we expect a number of them to establish a permanent presence in our region. Their establishment and expansion will be a key component to regional economic growth.

The motion capture facility will foster new companies. Experience shows that high-tech facilities like the motion capture facility are “idea engines.” Inspired by their work at the facility, professors and students will develop ideas for new products and start their own companies. We expect these entrepreneurs will hire graduates of Shawnee State and other local institutions who may go on to start their own companies. The growth can be geometric – some of the largest computer and software companies in the U.S. began as one or two people with an idea.

There is no doubt that some students will realize great success in places like New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo, bolstering the reputation of Shawnee State. However, Shawnee State students have deep ties to the region – most students remain after graduation. We expect students to start businesses in the area – their home – to which they feel tremendous loyalty. In that way, they will benefit from their proximity to the facility and the established relationships with international corporations. These students will become the new high-tech entrepreneurs who will create an entirely new economy in Appalachia.

The facility will bring positive attention to the region. Already, Shawnee State’s high-tech programs have garnered statewide and national attention. An Associated Press story touching on Shawnee State’s role in Appalachia’s economic development was carried by several newspapers in Ohio, as well as in USA TODAY. Such promotion is essential for securing the interest of companies.

The following is the link to the USA TODAY story:

We at Shawnee State are very excited by the possibilities that the motion capture facility holds for our university and for the people of Appalachia. Along with other higher education institutions and local companies, we are working hard to create a network of high-tech facilities and programs that will become the foundation for our economy in the 21st century.

Both appropriation requests are for equipment and staffing associated with the motion capture facility, including: motion capture equipment; equipment for sound and video editing studios; and, computer work stations containing appropriate software.

Federal support is a great benefit as we would be able to “leverage” that funding to secure other grants – we are exploring all possibilities for support of this initiative. Ohio is completing the second year of a state biennial budget. As planning for the next budget progresses, the university will investigate state support as well.

Should the appropriation requests be approved by the Senate and signed by the president, the money would be placed in a separate, restricted fund, any expenditures from which must be reported to the granting agency, which may also audit the fund. Additionally, the restricted fund would be subject to the annual external audit of the university required by state law.

We are committed to this initiative, regardless of whether the appropriation requests pass the Senate. However, we consider federal support a sound investment in the future of southern Ohio.

I have not contributed to either candidate in the campaign for the 2nd congressional district. And in no discussions regarding the motion capture facility in which I have participated has the subject of campaign contributions ever been mentioned.

L. Jeffrey Perez, Ph.D.
Executive Director,
Communications and Legislative Affairs
Shawnee State University
Portsmouth, Ohio 45662

BTW: The USA Today article referred to in Mr. Perez's response contains this picture:

Readers of Porkopolis will recognize that as the Portsmouth Mural...which incidentally were paid for with pork dollars from the Agriculture Rural Development Fund.



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September 6, 2006 at 9:23 AM  

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