It’s Monday morning, and Congressman Brad Miller, a Raleigh Democrat, is in Wake Forest talking radars, incoming torpedoes and “hard kills” with executives of a high-tech engineering firm, 3 Phoenix Inc., which designs and builds state-of-the-art electronic imaging systems for the Navy. The company’s customers aren’t all military, explains 3 Phoenix principal Joe Murray. Oil drillers buy the company’s telemetry, and other commercial applications are possible. Cities could use it to steer drivers to the nearest empty parking space.
But 3 Phoenix wants help steering around the budget cuts and bureaucratic red tape that, according to Murray, has thwarted the Navy’s desire to buy products unfamiliar to the “big dogs” on the congressional appropriations committees. As things stand, he says, 3 Phoenix is looking at a $13 million cut in Navy orders over two years—about 60 percent—for a telemetry system that’s “best for the fleet.” That’s a hard hit for a company with 140 employees. “As a small business,” Murray says, “it’s pretty easy to knock us around. We don’t get to fly in on the corporate jet and meet with the admirals.”
For Miller, who is not on the House Appropriations Committee but is on the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight (part of the Science, Space and Technology Committee), it’s all in a Monday’s work. Like any member of Congress who wants to be re-elected, Miller comes home most weekends while the House is in session and stays through Monday morning, working his district and meeting with constituents.
The appropriations bill has already cleared the House, Miller tells Murray after a tour of the facility, but there are other ways to obtain funding, and he may be able to help. “It’s a game,” Miller says, not disparagingly.
It’s a game, indeed, that Miller’s been very good at for about 30 years as a member of the state Legislature and, since he was elected in 2002, of Congress. But for Miller, the game may be ending, called on account of a Republican redistricting plan that seeks to yank most of Miller’s District 13 out from under him and force him to run, in the 2012 elections, where he cannot win. (See “The odd shapes of the GOP congressional redistricting plan.”)