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Spending bill aids East-West Center

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The East-West Center, hit by the recent resignation of its energy research team and criticized for "poor leadership," would see its pre-sequestration funding of $16.7 million restored under the omnibus spending bill now being considered by Congress.

Hawaii U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said Tuesday that Senate appropriations leaders increased East-West Center funding by nearly $6 million above the request in President Barack Obama’s budget, and the $16.7 million allocation was included in the bill even though the House of Representatives originally dropped financial support altogether.

Schatz said the funding would allow the center to continue research, education and outreach to support the country’s defense and diplomacy with Asia-Pacific nations.

"This work is more critical now than ever, with the president’s strategic U.S.-Asia rebalancing," he said in a news release.

The $1 trillion appropriations bill contains a major chunk of money for projects in Hawaii, including $1 billion for defense programs and $250 million for Honolulu’s rail project for fiscal year 2014.

The bipartisan bill is expected to pass the House and Senate before the week is out.

Funding for the East-West Center comes despite recent turmoil in Manoa that saw internationally renowned energy expert Fereidun Fesharaki, the center’s most senior employee, and three of his colleagues resign about two weeks ago. The resignations were characterized as a protest against the direction of the center under the leadership of Charles Morrison, the center’s president since 1998.

Fesharaki said funding declines over the years have weakened the institute’s influence and battered its reputation as a top-notch research institution. He said Morrison, among other things, failed to establish a foundation to raise money to make up for funding shortfalls.

But Morrison has argued that the center is dealing with the funding shortages by working toward a new business model that includes collaborating with universities and other institutions that share scholars on an ad hoc basis.

Established by Congress in 1960, the center is an independent nonprofit with a mission to promote better relations between the United States and Asia-Pacific nations through cooperative study, training and research. Research, conference and residential facilities are on 21 acres.

The center was strongly supported by former U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye in his role as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. But Inouye’s death in December 2012 put the center’s funding at risk, and Republicans in Congress questioned the center’s value and argued it should be privatized.

In a statement released Tuesday, Morrison thanked the members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation and other friends in Washington for their support.

"It’s taken an awful lot of heavy lifting, but they know the center is a great deal for the taxpayer," Morrison said.

"After many months of federal budget uncertainty, we are very much looking forward to applying these funds toward our dynamic regional programs in leadership training, educational and professional exchanges, journalism development and policy-oriented research, all vital components of the U.S. rebalance toward Asia," he said.

East-West Center Board of Governors Chairman Rick Tsujimura credited Schatz for taking the lead on securing the $16.7 million for the East-West Center.

"I am especially appreciative of his efforts to educate his fellow legislators about the importance of the Center in advancing U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific region. The critical funding restored in the appropriations bill will help the center accomplish its mission of encouraging dialogue, leadership, and goodwill in the region," Tsujimura said in a statement.

Other Hawaii programs in the omnibus spending bill include:

» $56.9 million for Native Hawaiian health care, education and housing.

» $471.8 million for transportation, including $250 million for Honolulu rail transit and $165 million for highways.

» $474.9 million for disaster preparedness, including $26.88 million to support the tsunami warning system.

» $1 billion for defense projects, including $392 million for military construction projects, $170.3 million for Navy alternative energy research and $287 million in environmental restoration of former defense sites.

» $176.7 million for protecting Hawaiian monk seals and sea turtles and at least $3.5 million for brown tree snake control.

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