Victor Reis, a veteran of wide-ranging technology posts in government and industry, has been formally named director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the high-profile research arm of the Pentagon.
Reis, 55, replaces Craig Fields, whose removal in April apparently was sparked by his support of commercial research deemed by Pentagon higher-ups as veering too close to so-called industrial policy.
Sources said Reis is less likely to use the post as a platform for strengthening the country's industrial base but rather will keep DARPA more narrowly focused on technologies that have clear payoffs for the Pentagon. Reis was not available for comment.
The 33-year-old agency, founded in response to the Soviet launch of Sputnik, acts as a sort of high-tech venture capitalist, awarding research contracts to industry and universities to pursue broad-based fundamental research as well as narrow, unconventional technologies. Although its budget of roughly $1 billion represents just a sliver of all Pentagon research and development funding, the agency has backed work that led to a variety of key advances, spanning fields from computer networking to radar-avoiding "stealth" technologies to acoustic sensors.
Popular on Capitol Hill, DARPA won a healthy increase in the 1991 budget, in marked contrast to the overall Pentagon shrinkage, including a boost for controversial research in high-definition displays.
Recruited by Fields, Reis was named deputy director of DARPA in December 1989 and acting director upon Fields's departure. Previously he was special assistant to the director at Lincoln Laboratory, a Pentagon-supported lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. With a PhD in engineering from Princeton University and known as a specialist in the functioning of large systems, Reis also served as the national security expert in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in the early 1980s.
"He's very broad in his understanding of science and technology," said George Keyworth, who was then the president's science adviser. "Vic believes strongly that the world of information technology is the primary source of strength in defense and other sectors . . . . Vic is a strong believer in competitiveness."
But, bowing to administration policy, he is likely to stress the military applications of technologies, sources said. While Reis may support "dual-use technolo- gies" -- research that will benefit both commercial and military users -- "he'll always emphasize the defense applications," said Ed McGaffigan, who worked with Reis at OSTP and now is an aide to DARPA proponent Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.)
Reis is likely to be less sympathetic than Fields to the controversial view that the government's role in providing for a strong national defense includes helping to shore up certain key commercial industries. "Craig got in trouble; Vic won't," one source said. "He's much more reticent about getting involved with industrial programs."
In his seven months as acting director, Reis is said to have emphasized teamwork and stressed the need to turn research more quickly into results.