The Departments of Defense and Homeland Security are both setting up units to forge closer ties with Silicon Valley, so they can obtain quicker access to new commercial technology and stay ahead of rapidly changing threats.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced at Stanford University April 23 that the Defense Innovation Unit-X (DIUX) will serve as a local interface node for his department. He said DIUX will strengthen existing relationships and build new ones and eventually “help startups find new work to do with DoD.”
DIUX is “first-of-a-kind [partnership] for us, staffed by some of our best active-duty and military personnel, plus key people from the reserves who live here, who are some of our best technical talent,” Carter said.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced two days earlier that DHS is finalizing plans to open a satellite office to serve as “another point of contact” for Silicon Valley.
“We want to strengthen critical relationships in Silicon Valley and ensure that the government and the private sector benefit from each other’s research and development,” Johnson said in a speech at a cybersecurity conference in San Francisco.
Carter said DIUX will build on decades of collaboration between DoD and Silicon Valley. He noted that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) alone has partnered with nearly 50 public- and private-sector research entities in the region in the past three years.
But not everyone applauded Carter’s announcement. Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, said Silicon Valley companies will be reluctant to do business with DoD due to heavy regulatory requirements, risks to intellectual property, relatively low profit margins, and uncertainty caused by Washington politics. Bay Area “tech executives are likely to recoil in horror when they realize what it means to work with today’s Pentagon,” Thompson wrote in an April 27 column.
OTHER TECH INITIATIVES
DoD, meanwhile, is looking at ways to improve its ability to attract information technology experts to its workforce.
In his speech, Carter said the department is establishing its own branch of the new U.S. Digital Service “to help solve some of our most intractable IT and data problems in DoD. And in fact, we have our very first team … already in the Pentagon working on transferring electronic health records from DoD” to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Lt. Gen. Edward Cardon, head of Army Cyber Command, testified before a Senate Armed Services subcommittee April 14 that the Army is considering creating a cyber career field for civilians. He said recruiting and retaining such workers has been challenging due to pay constraints and a slow hiring process.