DIU director: Look beyond reform to keep the technological edge
More than acquisition reform is required if the U.S. wants to regain its technological edge, according to a top defense tech official.
“We’re losing that edge and we’re losing it at a rapid rate. And I think if we look at what is required to keep that edge, it’s going to be a recommitment to science and technology in this country,” Mike Brown, the director of the Defense Innovation Unit, said Nov. 4 during the Aspen Security Forum.
“We continue to have an erosion of federally funded R&D as a percentage of GDP that’s gone down from 2%, now in national security oriented investments, to 0.35%. That does not sound like a leader who wants to maintain a technological edge.”
Brown, who previously requested his nomination to be the Defense Department’s acquisition chief in July be withdrawn following an investigation of a complaint of favoritism in hiring practices, noted that increasing STEM talent was part of the solution but that taking a critical look at the requirements and budgeting processes were also needed.
“We have to reimagine these roadblocks in our way, these obstacles. You’re not going to be able to do that if you maintain requirements. Think about the narcissism of [what] requirements means: we’re omniscient; we know exactly what the market should build. Well, that doesn’t work in the world,” Brown said. “It’s about modularity, open interoperability, open standards…that requires a rethink.”
Brown’s comments come as Congress and defense officials have openly pondered about possible reforms to the budgeting process so that DOD can buy and develop technology especially software, at a more rapid tempo.
Brown noted that acquisition reform has been the focus for decades, while the requirements process has gotten a pass, relatively speaking.
“We need to go back to that risk-taking spirit where fewer people can make a decision,” Brown said, “maybe we don’t assume we know everything with requirements, let’s let some of our defense primes tell us what’s possible. And let’s use some more flexible methods of acquisition….we only go as fast as the slowest cog in that system.”
“We focused so much on acquisition over the past 20 or 30 years. And there are solutions there, like other transaction authorities. …….