The DARPA processes for establishing programs and solicitation of proposals include:
Assignment by SECDEF or USD AT&L;
Ideas for new programs from DARPA staff, SETA contractors, advisory boards, unsolicited proposals, and white papers;
Solicitations conducted through broad agency announcement, request for proposal, request for information, and sources sought;
A standing BAA at each DARPA Office is updated annually;
New programs usually starting as “seedlings” at a low funding level;
Following success in the seedling phase, formal solicitation issued for development and demonstration;
Solicitation and awards that can be executed by DARPA, a military department command, a project management office or laboratory, or another federal agency; and
Award instruments that include grants, cooperative agreements, procurement contracts, technology investment agreements, and other transaction-for-prototype agreements.
Criteria for investment in a new program have varied over time, but one set of guidelines still in use in parts of DARPA are those developed by a previous director, George Heilmeier:
What are you trying to do?
How is it done today?
What is new in your approach?
If you are successful, what difference will it make?
What are the risks and payoffs?
How much will it cost? How long will it take?
What are the midterm and final “exams” to check for success?
The time window of interest is a huge difference between DARPA programs and NIAC programs. NIAC’s objective was advanced concepts of interest between 10 and 40 years in the future. At DARPA the term for programs is 3 to 10 years with a few exceptions. Programs are normally finished and transitioned by then or they are terminated for one of the following reasons:
Failed mid-term exam;
Cost, schedule, and technical problems;
Champion(s) left; or
Transition prospects low.