some extent, it is interdependent with the larger technical and defense community, but that attribute allows DARPA to maintain flexibility in budgeting and helps it to focus on innovation rather than on the maintenance of an infrastructure or on its past performance.
The DARPA decision-making process is also something unusual for a government agency. It is informal and relatively flexible, taking a top-down approach to problem definition and a bottom-up approach to generating ideas and solutions, with the key emphasis on technical merit. DARPA is a very small and flat organization, rich in military technological expertise. Only one core management level exists between the individual technical program manager and the overall agency director. With such a small senior management cadre, decisions are easier to make. The management style at DARPA is essentially entrepreneurial, flexible, and focused on being as bold as possible. The management philosophy is to pursue fast, flexible, and formal cycles—continuous cycles of thinking, proposing, discussing, deciding, and revising. This approach may not be appropriate for most government agencies, but Welby said it has worked well at DARPA.
The DARPA approach has significant consequences for relationships with academia, industry, and the rest of the federal government. The first consequence is that DARPA works actively to avoid hard and fast rules. Each program tends to be very different—its character is very dependent on the personality of the individual program manager and the mix of performers who are invited to participate. The program manager chooses his or her own technical support team. The team can be drawn from almost anywhere—from technical support contractors, consultants, and employees of government laboratories, contracting shops, and federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs). This often results in a very close, teamlike working relationship between the DARPA program manager and other participants.
Another consequence is the agency's constant hunger for new ideas. To attract ideas, DARPA maintains a continuous, ongoing outreach effort through its management staff. According to Welby, attracting ideas is a large part of his job. DARPA tries to maintain a high profile and a keen awareness of current possibilities through its Web presence, biannual DARPA technology symposia, open Broad Agency Announcements (BAAs), and frequent formal briefings to industry. The goal is to be open to new ideas from industry, government, and academia.
Because DARPA’s focus is on generating creative solutions, whenever and wherever possible it seeks free and open competition to maximize the incentive for innovation. The agency generally solicits through BAAs, a vehicle that maximizes flexibility and responses, but it will use a more traditional Request for Proposals (RFP) when appropriate. The agency executes its efforts using a mix of grant and contract mechanisms; in particular, it has pioneered the use of the Other Transaction Authority (OTA) under Section 10 U.S. Code 2371, a mechanism that allows for more flexible contracting arrangements with industry and academia than are normally possible using Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR).2
DARPA also has the authority to award prizes that encourage technical accomplishments, similar to the Orteig prize that Charles Lindbergh won for his nonstop transatlantic flight. DARPA made use of the authority earlier this year as a sponsor of
Further information on federal acquisition regulations may be found at <http://www.arnet.gov/far/>. Accessed September 27, 2004.