The third is that DARPA maintains very little permanent infrastructure (no labs, test facilities, or production lines) so that it maintains maximum flexibility in budgeting and keeps its focus on promoting innovation rather than maintaining what it has or what it has done.

DARPA’s emphasis on technical entrepreneurship, coupled with intentionally limiting its attachment to any particular program, set of people, and infrastructure, has allowed it to focus successfully on promoting radical innovation for national security.

Relationships with Government, Academia, and Industry

These defining features of the DARPA ethos have significant consequences for its relationship with academia, industry, and the rest of government. The first is that there are no hard and fast rules. Each program tends to be very different, with its character very dependent on the personality of the PM and his performers, with some influence from the (very few) higher levels of management. The PM chooses his technical support team and can draw from almost anywhere—System Engineering and Technical Assistance (SETA) contractors, consultants, government laboratories and contracting shops, and FFRDCs. This often results in a very close, teamlike working relationship between the DARPA program manager, his support team, and the performing contractors.

Another consequence is a constant hunger for new ideas. To attract ideas DARPA advertises its current priorities through a Web presence, biennial DARPA tech symposia, open BAAs, and frequent briefings to industry. This is in addition to having an (almost) open door policy to new ideas from industry, government, and academia.

Because the program is the focus, DARPA prefers free and open competition, which has been demonstrated to maximize performance. The agency uses grants, contracts, other transactions (under sections 10 USC 2371 and 2371 note), and prizes. It generally solicits via BAAs, though RFPs are also used. Occasionally, particularly when the idea or concept is specific to a performer, projects are sole sourced.

DARPA puts the generation of new ideas and program execution first. For example, because fixed facilities create inertia and prevent DARPA from putting its money where the needs and opportunities exist, it prefers to execute most programs through open, competitive procurements. Where appropriate, program managers employ government laboratories in a variety of ways, but they enjoy no permanent or incumbent status.

The agency seeks proposals from companies of all sizes but recognizes that small companies are often sources of great innovation. To overcome some of the limitations under which small companies operate, DARPA participates in the SBIR and STTR process. Many program managers learn to integrate these processes into their program development. DARPA’s use of these mechanisms is a rich source of opportunity, for both DARPA and the participating companies.

In addition to bringing in university personnel as program managers, DARPA funds a substantial quantity of pure and applied research at universities. Universities often participate in teams to execute large system demonstrations. For example 20 percent of the teams in DARPA’s recent Grand Challenge, a prize contest to build an autonomous ground vehicle, were led by universities. Intellectual property rights are generally negotiated as part of the grant or contract.

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