Michael Marlaire, an attendee from NASA Ames Research Center, discussed the University-Affiliated Research Center in the University of California (UC) system—basically, one large research contract for over $330 million over the next decade. More than 100 individuals from the system are working on the contract. A third of them are inside the fence on the original grounds at NASA Ames Research Center and a third are in the NASA Ames research park. Money flows through the entire UC system. This arrangement could be described as a hybrid of what Shamma had been discussing earlier—a combination of business subcontracts and university grants. Individual PIs are still involved, as are teams from the other campuses in the UC system. Another attendee suggested that this model could be more effective since, instead of individuals or groups serving as subcontractors to a prime contractor, all such individuals or groups were funded directly by NASA. Marlaire felt that NASA should continue to support this model.
Shamma again brought up the matter of proposals with inflated numbers of people. He had never heard of a program manager saying, “You have great ideas but too many people.” So the idea is to promise a lot of results in the proposal even if this allows only $50,000 per PI. An attendee commented that one of the motivations for inflating the number of people might be that it made the proposal more attractive politically because the funds were spread around more. Shamma interjected that proposals with a lot of ideas seemed to get a reviewer’s attention. Another attendee suggested that it helped to include individuals with solid reputations in specific technology areas.
Shamma mentioned another criticism he had of the MURI program—the interaction of the university teams with the DOD national laboratories. He described the interaction as flexible; however, “flexible” could also mean unstructured. It is to the MURI’s benefit to work on problems that are traceable and strongly motivated by DOD’s immediate concerns but not necessarily on near-term prototypes. Shamma believed that the MURIs could use more guidance from the DOD on what DOD is actually interested in—this would entail more than just brief, annual feedback. He also believed that the choice of topics—26 per year—could be restricting. Twenty-six topics is certainly not all-encompassing (and should not be), but either your research is covered by that a year's worth of MURI solicitation topics or it is not. Shamma suggested two alternatives: annual themes and smaller groups of PIs.
John Roth from MicroSat Systems began by saying everyone knows that DOD contracting is not always problem free. His company, formed in 2001, designs, builds, and will eventually operate satellites. The company is a direct contractor to DOD organizations rather than a subcontractor. It is an unusual kind of business model. The company was awarded the first OTA contract implemented by the Space Vehicles directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Kirtland Air Force Base. Roth recalled the earlier discussion of the OTA contracting mechanism, first used by DARPA and then embraced by other organizations. ARFL decided to use it on its first contract with MicroSat Systems, but it did not work quite as smoothly as the textbook had suggested.