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Tech Heavyweights Talk Pentagon Into Getting a Chief Innovation Officer

Defense Secretary Ash Carter meets with Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google parent company Alphabet and new chairman of the first DoD Innovation Advisory Board.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter meets with Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google parent company Alphabet and new chairman of the first DoD Innovation Advisory Board. // Defense Department

The Pentagon is taking cues from tech executives about how to nurture a culture of innovation.

The Defense Department will seek out a chief innovation officer to oversee programs designed to encourage employees to solve problems creatively, the Pentagon announced last week.

The move comes at the recommendation of the Defense Innovation Board, chaired by Google Alphabet's Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and includes Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, LinkedIn Co-founder Reid Hoffman and celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

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The chief innovation officer will advise Defense Secretary Ash Carter and will oversee efforts to spread a creative culture by using new technology, such as new software platforms.

Establishing a chief innovation officer position is one of several recommendations the Defense Innovation Board made. Carter said he plans to implement others, such as investing more in recruiting computer scientists and software engineers, and investing in machine learning using federal challenges and prize competitions.

Outside organizations including IBM, Intel and Google who "embraced this position also have started to regularly run these kinds of innovation tournaments and competitions," Carter said at a recent event in Washington. Doing so would "help incentivize our people to come up with innovative ideas and approaches and be recognized for them."

The Pentagon also plans to help tech talent come into, and leave, the government after short stints of service, potentially through the Defense Digital Service or the Secretary of Defense Corporate Fellows Program.

The DIB's other recommendations included offering bonuses or awards for managers who encourage employees to think creatively, and investing more in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, according to a DOD release.

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