At Waikiki military technology conference, empty seats because of budget cuts

At Waikiki military technology conference, empty seats because of budget cuts

WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - A military science and technology conference being held this week at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki has one third fewer attendees than last year because of federal budget cuts, organizers said Thursday.

The Pacific Operational Science and Technology conference has interesting exhibits and workshops with experts where some of the sessions are so sensitive that participants are required to leave their smart phones and tablets outside.

But there are also lots of empty seats because attendance has fallen by one third, from 600 in 2012 to just under 400 people this year.

"The number of folks who we wanted to attend from the United States government side was extremely curtailed," said George Kailiwai, director of resources and assessment for the U.S. Pacific Command, which partnered with the National Defense Industrial Association to put on the annual event.

Those 200 fewer people are active duty military and Department of Defense civilian personnel who are not coming to this conference this year from the mainland.

Kailiwai blamed Pentagon budget cuts as well as additional forced cuts brought on by sequestration that have resulted in slashed federal travel budgets.  The U.S. Pacific Command has cut its travel budget in half.

"A lot of them wanted to attend but couldn't because of some of the travel restrictions," said Kailiwai, a retired Air Force colonel.

Fees paid by attendees and exhibitors fund this week's event in Waikiki, not taxpayers. But some tax money is spent here by federal employees to attend and stay in reduced-rate hotel rooms at the Hilton complex for $177 a night.

The number of exhibitors fell by about 14 percent from last year to 36, organizers said.  And numerous experts scheduled to speak at workshop sessions canceled at the last minute because of federal travel restrictions.

Organizers had considered canceling the event altogether.

"One of the reasons why we chose not to was because a lot of our international partners were committed, and as you would expect, they're not directly affected by the United States sequestration and the continuing resolution," Kailiwai said.

Attendees from other countries more than doubled to about 50 this year, he said.

But exhibitors -- some of whom represent Hawaii businesses hoping to sell their water desalination technology to the military -- have seen fewer potential customers in their booths.

"Getting these technologies out to the different potential buyers and clients, it has a huge impact.  So, less number of potential opportunities," said Vincent Kimura of Hawaii Technology Development Venture, which represents about a dozen Hawaii firms.

Another exhibitor was Bob Carrese, director of international business development for Bell Helicopter.  He answered questions about the joint Bell-Boeing aircraft, the V-22 Osprey, a hybrid airplane-helicopter.

"That's the reason that a lot of folks are still here, because this is an important area and there's some interesting technologies that can be leveraged even in this era of restricted resources," Carrese said.

Since fewer military officials could attend the sessions, "In the long run, it means that we're going to have to make up for our training in other manners, in other ways in other methods," Kailiwai said.

That means fewer in-person training events and instead using more video teleconferencing, Kailiwai added.

"I think the military has been asked to do more with less for quite a long time, and I think now maybe the discussion is doing less with less," Kailiwai said.

Lawrence Farrell, the president of the National Defense Industrial Association, said his nonprofit group expects to cancel about 10 percent of its 80 or so conferences held across the country this year because federal budget cuts are curtailing the travel of military personnel.

Nine of the NDIA's conferences have already been canceled, including the National Logistic Conference and Exhibition that was supposed to be held in Miami the week of March 18 and the Joint Service Power Expo that was set for late April in Charleston, South Carolina.

"If government's not going to the conference, there's no reason to have it," Farrell said.

Copyright 2013 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.