WASHINGTON — Continuing resolutions that throw into question budget priorities and planning could have a detrimental effect on innovation in the military, according to Pentagon officials.
“You try to spend as judiciously as possible with the awareness that next fiscal year you might start the year without any funds. That’s always in the back of your mind,” Stacey Dixon, deputy director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, said Sept. 6 at the Defense News conference. “It does impact what you’re planning over the course of a year. If I could encourage anything it would be for Congress to really think about the impact you’re having on agencies with these continuing resolutions. It’s not a good thing for government, and they have the power to fix that.”
Across the Defense Department leaders have pushed to integrate innovation into antiquated acquisition systems plagued by years-long lead times. IARPA, alongside organizations like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental and the Army Rapid Capabilities Office all came to fruition as ways to get around bureaucratic red tape plaguing procurement.
DIUx and the Army RCO in particular are recently launched offices that rely on partnerships with other agencies and industry to achieve innovation. Under this model, DoD organizations put in some money, then industry – often venture capitalists – also contribute funds to develop a technology or capability, said Sean Singleton, DIUx director of business and marketing.
“Congress has given us great freedom to actually leverage our research and engineering and [operations and maintenance] money actually go ahead and evaluate projects on an actual deal-by-deal basis,” Singleton said. “We’ve had companies that have gone off and done $1 million worth of work for the Department of Defense then have gotten $10 million worth of venture capital because they’re working toward something that proves out their business model. So Congress has given us the financial freedom to go out and actually use that dry powder in a very judicious way, and that’s how we’re able to go to market.”
But that model could be threatened by ongoing continuing resolutions that fail to provide guidance and adequate support to program managers and decision-makers looking to field capabilities as soon as possible.
“I always think of the scene at the end of ‘The Right Stuff’ where Chuck Yeager’s just broken the sound barrier and the news reporters call him back…a conversation occurs where he says, ‘It’s funding. Funding makes those aircraft fly,’” said Col. Joe Capobianco, Army RCO chief of staff. Lawmakers maintain “a level of oversight and a level of comfort with tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s real money, that’s taxpayer money. With DoD, at times, it may seem like less money at times but there’s that tension…Congress wants, justifiably so, oversight and appropriation against things that are important to them. And at the same time they’re trying to find ways to have specific amounts of money and more flexibility to allow innovation to occur.”