Lessons Learned from Other Federal Agencies
The statement of task directs the committee to consider lessons learned from the requirements process of the Department of Defense (DoD), from the innovation-driven process used by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and from nonaeronautical research by federal agencies that positively affected areas with strong private sector economic interests. The steering committee did not have time to undertake extensive examinations in these areas, but it did receive presentations from Air Force Headquarters;1 DARPA;2 and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL)3 The committee also reviewed materials on the private sector related to federal research provided to SEMATECH (to support the competitiveness of the U.S. semiconductor industry) and to the Human Genome Project.
SEMATECH was formed in 1987 in response to concerns that the U.S. semiconductor industry was losing market share to international competitors. Initially, 14 high-tech companies, representing 85 percent of the national capacity for semiconductor manufacturing, contributed $100 million. The federal government also established an annual R&D budget of $100 million. Interestingly, DARPA was selected by Congress to be the executive agency for appropriated funds earmarked for SEMATECH. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, SEMATECH evolved in its role, structure, and orientation in supporting the competitiveness of the U.S. semiconductor industry. It used horizontal and vertical collaboration with industry and government agencies (Carayannis and Alexander, 2004; Spencer and Seidel, 1995).
The steering committee did not determine whether the civil aeronautics industry and the semiconductor industry have enough similarities to justify use of the SEMATECH model for civil aeronautics R&T. However, SEMATECH successfully supported a U.S. industry that was being threatened by foreign competition, as is the U.S. civil aeronautics industry today.
The Human Genome Project is an example of the federal government sponsoring research for the public good. The National Institutes of Health and the Department of Energy brought together international biological and medical research communities in the public and private sectors (Collins et al., 2003; Frazier et al., 2003). Many of the experiences in organizing and managing such a complicated, publicly funded, international effort will be applicable to future large-scale projects in biology. The steering committee did not determine whether these lessons learned would also apply to the civil aeronautics industry. However, the example of federal research funding for the public good is analogous to a great deal of civil aeronautics research, particularly since the government has primary responsibility for providing air traffic control services and also has an interest in improving the efficiency of air transportation to benefit the public and the economy.
DoD’s aeronautics R&D is primarily intended to benefit the military services and the defense agencies. The DoD requirements process is derived from a structured dialogue of technology push and mission-requirements pull within the DoD science and technology community, the individual military services, and the unified command user community.
DoD is enhanced by the overlay of the innovation-driven DARPA process. DARPA is organizationally structured to be nimble, and it enjoys certain flexibility and tolerance for risk in expediting prototype demonstrations of fundamental research, cutting-edge discoveries, and new system concepts that have demonstrated some level of success to the science and technology programs of the military services.
The DARPA model works, in part because successful research products can be handed off directly to a closely associated user community (the military services). Although the NASA aeronautics program does not enjoy this advantage, DARPA’s success implies that NASA should strive to nurture an environment that tolerates risk in aeronautics research, as difficult as that would seem to be given the need for risk aversion when it comes to civil aeronautics, where human life is in the balance. The DARPA experience also presents a model for an aeronautics research strategy that combines technology push and mission-requirements pull, with three caveats:
The U.S. civil aeronautics industry by nature tends to focus on low-risk (and low-cost) solutions to immediate problems and thus is not an ideal source of requirements for a long-term research program with significant risk tolerance.
Organizations in the U.S. civil aeronautics community have diverse interests and needs and very rarely speak with one voice on the value of or the requirements for any particular aeronautics R&T project.
Like NASA, DoD maintains a large institutional base of facilities and a civil service workforce as an integral part of its investment decisions and program formulation. However, DARPA does not and is therefore permitted far more freedom in funding and program decisions.
Thus it is unrealistic to expect that NASA’s civil aeronautics program will be able to create the same requirements process and constituency support base that DoD has created, nor will it be able to employ the same innovation-driven model that DARPA has enjoyed. It may, however, be possible to create a virtual requirement process guided by decadal surveys of requirements and priorities.
Likewise, NASA does not have the resources to recreate joint government-industry efforts on the scale of SEMATECH or the Human Genome Project, but those two grand efforts do demonstrate the value of joint undertakings, and NASA may wish to pursue a similar model on whatever scale available resources allow.
Carayannis, E.M., and J. Alexander. 2004. Strategy, structure, and performance issues of precompetitive R&D consortia: Insights and lessons learned from SEMATECH. IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management 51(2).
Collins, F., M. Morgan, and A. Patrinos. 2003. The Human Genome Project: Lessons from large-scale biology. Science 300(April 11).
Frazier, M., G. Johnson, D. Thomassen, C. Oliver, and A. Patrinos. 2003. Realizing the potential of the genome revolution: The genomes to life program. Science 300(April 11).
Spencer, W.J., and T.E. Seidel. 1995. National technology roadmaps: The U.S. semiconductor experience. Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Solid-State and Integrated Circuit Technology, Beijing, China, October 24-28.