Sen. Daniel Inouye

BY HAWAII REPORTER

Inouye asking Akaka for Hearing on Contracting Preferences

Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye wants his fellow Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka to hold hearings on Small Business Administration rules that give Native American groups in Alaska and Hawaii contracting preferences.

Inouye formally made the request on Wednesday in a letter to Akaka, who took over as chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs last week. Hawaii’s senior U.S. senator wants the committee to review the importance of contracts given the Alaska Native Corporations, Native Hawaiian Organizations and tribal entities after a series of negative articles about the Alaska contracts in the Washington Post.

“The purposed of the hearing is to allow the SBA, ANCS, NHOs, Indian tribes, shareholders and other stakeholders the opportunity to demonstrate the importance and legitimacy of the program to Native communities in fulfilling self-determination and self-sufficiency,” said the letter written by Inouye and Alaska Sen. Mark Begich and obtained by the Arctic Sounder, an Anchorage newspaper.

Alaska Native Corporations have come under media and Congressional scrutiny, including a series of critical articles published by the Washington Post. They said the exemptions allowed the corporations to obtain $29 billion in federal contracts over the past decade but that native shareholders had gotten relatively little of the contracting windfall despite the program being set up to improve lives of struggling indigenous people.

More recently the Hawaii Reporter published a piece noting a handful of Native Hawaiian-owned companies used federal contracting preferences authored by Inouye to land some $500 million in non-bid or reduced competition government work since 2005.

Missouri U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill has been critical of the Alaska Native Corp. contracts and last month submitted S226, a bill that would eliminate some of the special preferences and rules for the Alaska groups. Native Hawaiian contractors are concerned that legislative changes could endanger the benefits now enjoyed by Native-Hawaiian owned firms.

Daniel Akaka

As noted by the Hawaii Reporter previously, minority-owned small businesses qualify for special federal contracting “set-asides” under what is called the “8(a)” program operated by the U.S Small Business Administration. But the extra benefits written into procurement laws and regulations for native-owned businesses have earned them the designation “Super 8as.”

The Super 8a program allows for-profit subsidiaries of non-profit NHO’s to receive non-bid federal contracts and requires that profits be forwarded to the non-profit parents.

The contracting preferences are meant to bring economic growth and employment opportunities to impoverished Hawaiian, Native Alaskan and Native American communities. But measuring the effectiveness of the system is difficult, admit some government officials in charge of oversight.

Inouye’s and Begich’s letter contends critics have been wrong.

“The perception created by the Washington Post series is misleading and deceptive,” the letter said.

The senators said such a hearing would allow the SBA to discuss actions taken to increase transparency and oversight of the Alaska Native Corporations and whether any other changes are needed to ensure Native communities and shareholders benefit from the program.

Hawaii Moving to Outlaw Homemade Bombs

It would be illegal to knowingly make or set off a homemade explosive under two bills being considered by the state Legislature.

HB 28 and SB782 are companion bills that would make the crime a felony with punishment of up to five years in jail and fines of up to $10,000.

The Senate bill has been approved by the Public Safety, Government Operations and Military Affairs Committee

Plant Thieves Would Have to Pay for their Crimes

A bill introduced by Rep. Cynthia Thielen establishes a monetary retribution to property owners who have been victimized by plant thefts.

HB12 would require those convicted for stealing an agricultural product or commodity to pay for the value and the replanting of the stolen items in addition to any criminal penalties they may face.

“This is an important bill not only to those growing and distributing plants, but to retail outlets as well as private and public land owners,” said Thielen.

The measure will be heard by the House Committee on Agriculture on Friday.

Another Product Based Upon Hawaiian Hibiscus ‘Scent’

Any school kid in Hawaii can tell you – hibiscus blossoms, while colorful, generally have no smell.

So it’s a little humorous when perfumes and other products claim to capture the essence of hibiscus aroma. Mr. Clean with Febreze is the latest of these, rolling out a new “Hawaiian Aloha” scent along with another, New Zealand Springs.

“The Hawaiian Aloha scent finds its inspiration in vivid yellow hibiscus, which is the state flower of Hawaii,” said Mr. Clean in a product announcement Wednesday.

“We often hear from consumers that they dislike the harsh smell of cleaning products, so we kept this in mind when developing the new line, and are excited to introduce products that combine two qualities important to consumers: outstanding cleaning power and a pleasant scent,” said Debora Kaylor, Brand Manager at P&G.

P&G isn’t the only one marketing items with hibiscus scent. Various fragrances, soaps and other items claim to have the hibiscus aroma. But save for a few varieties that aren’t common, most hibiscus in Hawaii aren’t fragrant.

More Geothermal Power on the Way for Big Island

The long awaited expansion of Puna Geothermal Venture’s plant may be at hand.

Hawaii Electric Light Company, Inc. and Puna Geothermal’s owner,  Ormat Technologies, Inc., have signed a Power Purchase Agreement to add more renewable energy, with pricing independent of oil prices, to the Hawaii Island grid.

Puna Geothermal agreed to provide another 8 megawatts of power produced by geothermal energy at fixed prices for 20 years. That would be in addition to the about 30 MW of power it already provides HELCO.

The PPA is subject to approval by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (PUC), with input from the Hawaii Division of Consumer Advocacy. The construction of the power plant is substantially complete and is expected to reach full commercial operation after HELCO completes electric grid modifications by the third quarter of 2011.

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