WASHINGTON — High-technology projects led by California companies and public organizations won 38% of the funding announced by the Pentagon on Wednesday under its Technology Reinvestment Program, the cornerstone of the Clinton Administration's defense conversion effort.
The Pentagon awarded 50 projects nationwide a total of $190 million in federal funds, which must also be matched by private funding. The California share of the awards amounts to about $72 million for 14 projects.
Although it is still too early to assess whether the technology programs will succeed, President Clinton has a major political stake in the effort's prospects to bolster the national economy as well as his standing in California.
"It's a cornerstone of our reinvestment and conversion initiative, recognizing that those who worked so hard to win the Cold War should not be unduly burdened by cutbacks in military expenditures," Clinton told California officials Wednesday at a White House ceremony.
But the President's conversion program has been criticized by many experts as being too small and poorly organized to make any significant dent in the regional economic damage brought by the end of the Cold War.
After four rounds of awards, California organizations have taken about 28% of the $605 million in total funding, or about $170 million in direct federal grants, according to White House officials.
California's large share of the awards have prompted complaints from Congress, though White House and Pentagon officials insist that the awards are based on merit alone and that California's large share reflects its large defense technology base.
The California projects include 10 programs to develop new technology for commercial markets, two programs to set up alliances that can deploy existing defense manufacturing technology and two training and education programs. The California winners include:
* Lear Astronics Corp., a Santa Monica-based defense firm. It plans to spend $42 million to develop an automated aircraft landing system using radar and infrared sensors that give pilots an image of a runway in dense fog and snow. It would allow commercial aircraft to land at 1,276 U.S. airports that do not have sophisticated instrument landing systems.
* Bay Area Regional Transit and Hughes Aircraft. They plan to spend $39 million to develop a system using the Pentagon's global positioning system to help reduce the separation between trains, effectively doubling the passenger capacity of the commuter system.
* Hughes Aircraft and other General Motors subsidiaries. They plan to spend $12.2 million to develop an automobile collision-avoidance system to alert a driver to hazards by sensing vehicle separation and loss of control.
* The Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. and the Los Angeles Unified School District. They won funding for a $2-million advanced-technology training center aimed at helping disadvantaged youths.
* A consortium of two dozen California organizations, led by the Great Lakes Composites Consortium. It won a grant to organize a $1.4-million composites technology center at Cerritos College.