number of proposal briefs on new areas, including spacecraft concepts, computer microprocessor technologies, and basic biological science efforts. Welby was struck by the challenge that Tether faced every day—having to choose from among not only the apples and oranges but also the prunes that are set in front of him. Welby went on to say that Tether spent a tremendous amount of time trying to engage externally, trying to understand the administration’s priorities, and helping to choose among many options. He has a very active outreach program at the agency with other agencies of government at the highest levels of leadership. The Vice President spent the day at DARPA in the spring of 2003. The Secretary and the Deputy Secretary of Defense also spent time with DARPA’s research and development staff. The NASA Administrator had also visited. DARPA management uses these interactions to help understand priorities and where people think the world is headed. But, Welby said, DARPA really used those opportunities as inputs to help management play a technically balanced and politically effective supportive role.
Walker continued along this line by asking Welby to provide a better picture of the level at which DARPA decides priorities and the organization of the team that decides. Welby described DARPA as being structured into eight offices. Depending on its size, an office has two or three senior management staff. With an organization of that size, Welby said, management could bring individuals into a room and engage in fruitful discussions. Those discussions, however, must reflect the priorities that are generated outside the agency. Welby mentioned that DARPA was actively engaged with the armed services, with other organizations in the Office of Secretary of Defense, and with outside agencies. The agency’s director and senior staff meet with the chiefs of staff of the individual military services monthly or bimonthly. DARPA also occasionally co-locates personnel to provide outreach and serve as liaisons at important command locations worldwide. The real differentiator between an effort that DARPA chooses to pursue and an effort that it declines to pursue is the potential for high payoff.
Macauley continued the line of discussion by asking how an idea was prioritized. For example, a few ideas are presented for vaccine research and a few for agricultural research. She asked how the DARPA team of senior managers would set priorities among those ideas. Does this team have a set of ranking criteria? Welby replied that DARPA used the questions he suggested earlier: What would be the real payoffs of a particular technology approach? How does the technology matter? He believed that DARPA’s culture promoted discussion of these approaches on their merits.
Darrell Branscome said he assumed that one of the measures of success for DARPA as a whole was the portion of projects ultimately implemented by an armed service. Branscome asked what percentage of DARPA-funded projects made it into service-mission-funded procurements. Welby cited a study that looked at the percentage of programs that had transitioned over time.5 While Welby was unsure of the exact figure, he said it was higher than one might expect.
Welby continued by saying that the variety and number of projects in which DARPA had been involved was striking. DARPA Order No. 1 was for the original Saturn booster. The agency had also been involved in redeveloping the M16 rifle. DARPA’s work in stealth technology and in advanced aircraft programs had had a tremendous success rate.