By Noah Shachtman
Darpa director Regina Dugan will soon be stepping down from her position atop the Pentagon’s premiere research shop to take a job with Google. Dugan, whose controversial tenure at the agency lasted just under three years, was “offered and accepted at senior executive position” with the internet giant, according to Darpa spokesman Eric Mazzacone. She felt she couldn’t say no to such an “innovative company,” he adds.
Dugan’s emphasis on cybersecurity and next-generation manufacturing earned her strong support from the White House, winning her praise from the President and maintaining the agency’s budget even during a period of relative austerity at the Pentagon. Her push into crowdsourcing and outreach to the hacker community were eye-openers in the often-closed world of military R&D. Dugan also won over some military commanders by diverting some of her research cash from long-term, blue-sky projects to immediate battlefield concerns.
“There is a time and a place for daydreaming. But it is not at Darpa,” she told a congressional panel in March 2011 (.pdf). “Darpa is not the place of dreamlike musings or fantasies, not a place for self-indulging in wishes and hopes. Darpa is a place of doing.” For an agency that spent millions of dollars on shape-shifting robots, Mach 20 missiles, and mind-controlled limbs, it was something of a revolutionary statement.
The shift was only one of the reasons why Dugan was a highly polarizing figure within her agency, and in the larger defense research community. The Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) is also actively investigating hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of contracts that Darpa gave out to RedX Defense — a bomb-detection firm that Dugan co-founded, and still partially owns. A separate audit is examining a sample of the 2,000 other research contracts Darpa has signed during Dugan’s tenure, to “determine the adequacy of Darpa’s selection, award, and administration of contracts and grants,” according to a military memorandum.
Results of the inspector general’s work haven’t been released. And the work had “no impact” on Dugan’s decision, according to her spokesman, Mazzacone. “The only reason” she decided to leave the Pentagon was the allure of working at Google.