Last week, President Obama announced a new government and advanced-manufacturing industry partnership to spur high-tech innovation. Before his speech, he was briefed on a new combat support vehicle developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Among those briefing the president? DARPA Director Regina Dugan.
To know about DARPA and Dugan is to know about military innovation, except the agency is so tightly wrapped in a blanket of secrecy that it’s difficult to figure out exactly what it does until well after it’s done it — take the agency’s role in the creation of the Internet, for example.
Dugan, the 19th (and first female) director of DARPA, came to the agency after co-founding Dugan Ventures, which in turn founded RedXDefense in 2005. RedXDefense was created to produce solutions for combating explosive threats. Dugan’s involvement in both companies created friction in 2010, when RedXDefense won a $1.7 million contract from DARPA and Wired reported that the firm also owed Dugan $250,000. Dugan recused herself from any business dealings with RedXDefense, and DARPA Deputy Director Kaigham “Ken” Gabriel told the Los Angeles Times: “Honestly, this is something that is prevalent. . . . We just know how to deal with it. It’s not that big of a deal, frankly.” The Times also reported that no law exists preventing a sitting DARPA chief from divesting in companies that receive defense contracts before assuming their post.
That aside, the full interview from the Wall Street Journal’s “All Things D” was posted Monday morning. Dugan discusses some of the latest developments at DARPA and the role the agency plays in some of the nation’s most significant inventions.
“We have a singular mission. Our singular mission is the prevention and creation of strategic surprise,” Dugan says. Asked what those surprises were, Dugan responds predictably, “Well, they wouldn’t be surprises if I told you, now, would they?”
Dugan touches briefly on her past in the public and private sector as well as the challenges DARPA faces in terms of working with the corporate and educational communities.
The interview is relatively long, clocking in at just over 30 minutes. But it’s a worthwhile watch for anyone interested in what DARPA is up to and the critical role it plays in domestic innovation.