Box 4.1
Research Cultures at DARPA and NSF

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

For many years there has been tacit acceptance within the R&D community of DARPA’s primary national role in certain IT areas critical to DOD in the long term. These include packet-switched networking, distributed computing, machine intelligence, software-reliability technology, and computer security. In each of these areas, program managers crafted engagements linking diverse participants in the research community, industry, and DOD according to principles that had been evolved through practice over several decades. This national leadership role enabled DOD to command the attention of the computer science research community, and indeed many computer scientists in universities have come to describe their research in military terms such as survivability, decision support, and situation awareness. Since the early 1990s, the strategic environment has been changing rapidly, prompted by the emergence of the private sector Internet, increasingly widespread computer-security challenges, greater military emphasis on asymmetric and coalition warfighting, broadening of the base of strong IT research universities, and a shift in the locus of innovation for many information technologies. Research and acquisition managers have attempted to adapt their strategies in response to these changes (with varying degrees of success).

National Science Foundation

At NSF, the principal criteria for research support are scientific quality and long-term socioeconomic impact. Perhaps unique to NSF is the emphasis on development of scientific foundations and a long time horizon, though other agencies, such as the DOD’s Office of Naval Research and the Army Research Office, also accept a long time horizon when they consider a potential mission impact. In recent years, NSF has increased its emphasis on broad socioeconomic impact yet further, coinciding with the acknowledgment in the policy and legislative community of the emerging pivotal role of information technology in the national infrastructure and in society broadly. This is also a reflection of the increased attention to measuring the effectiveness of government programs. At the same time that it seeks to better identify the socioeconomic impacts of the research it sponsors, NSF continues to recognize that breakthroughs in “curiosity-driven” basic research in fundamental areas can have unexpected impacts in practice, and it maintains a broad portfolio of basic research in information technology subjects.

ment and favorable and even fortuitous circumstances may be needed in the operating environment of the recipient organization and in the markets for particular underlying technologies. Complicating this, the time scales can be very long—a decade or more in many cases—possibly well beyond the life span of individual research projects.

The NSF’s Digital Government program illustrates that there is a natu-

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