WASHINGTON — A House subcommittee wants to withhold 20 percent of the funds for the expansion of the Pentagon’s key Silicon Valley outreach effort until the defense secretary provides a detailed plan to Congress.
The House Armed Services Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee released its part of a Pentagon policy bill Tuesday, and it seeks a slew of new plans, strategies and reports from the Defense Department.
The subcommittee's section of the full panel's 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would mandate the Pentagon give a report to the congressional defense committees on the charter for the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) and the use of funds to establish and expand it.
Under the bill, if adopted, DoD would be able to use only 80 percent of the DIUx funding until the report is handed over.
The president's budget request includes $45 million in FY 2017 for DIUx, though that figure may change as the relevant committees carve out their versions of the budget.
Pentagon officials have said DIUx-like units could open in other major tech innovation hubs such as Boston; Austin, Texas; Cincinnati, Seattle and elsewhere.
The bill otherwise expresses measured support for the effort — set up by Defense Secretary Ash Carter to help DoD take advantage of technological innovations by nontraditional companies. But the committee is “concerned by the pinpoint focus on one geographic region” and the use of “significant funding” in the organization’s “nascent period.”
“The committee is concerned that outreach is proceeding without sufficient attention being paid to breaking down the barriers that have traditionally prevented nontraditional contractors from supporting defense needs, like lengthy contracting processes and the inability to transition technologies,” the bill reads. “Furthermore, the committee is concerned that the focus on this initiative is occurring without sufficient guidance, oversight, and coordination with and into the various laboratories, engineering centers, and existing state and local innovation centers that by necessity must also bridge into this community."
The section of the HASC's Pentagon policy bill, the first of six to be released Tuesday and Wednesday, also would mandate the Pentagon develop a plan to counter small unmanned aerial systems against US forces by terrorists or countries. The defense secretary would have to report to the HASC by June 1.
To boost DoD efforts to develop tactical laser technology, the subpanel also wants the Pentagon to provide the HASC with a plan to develop enabling technologies, such as beam directors and adaptive optics; fire control systems; and power architectures and electronics.
Concern about social media is a theme in the bill.
One section of the legislation pushes the Pentagon to counter the Islamic State’s messaging and propaganda, arguing “the campaign to degrade and defeat ISIL on the battlefield must be linked with a comparable effort to degrade and defeat ISIL's message in the minds of potential supporters.” The defense secretary must brief the HASC on DoD’s "long-term strategy to counter adversarial messaging and recruiting utilizing digital technologies, including social media.”
The subcommittee’s legislation also raises concerns about the Pentagon's ability to monitor and use social media analytic tools for “battlespace awareness,” in essence to better understand their operating environments. The bill orders a briefing by Feb. 15, 2017, including how to avoid inadvertently viewing “US persons” and an explanation of DoD’s “fundamental lack” of relevant policy, doctrine and procedures.
The subcommittee has scheduled a 11 a.m.. Eastern Thursday markup, where that portion of the NDAA is expected to be passed quickly. Any remaining contentious issues will be worked out April 27, when the full HASC is set to mark up every section of the Pentagon policy legislation.