DOD memo clarifies DIUX mission

The July memo seeks to put Defense Innovation Unit Experimental on firmer ground following criticism from Congress.

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Defense Secretary Ash Carter has approved a memo that outlines the mission and authorities of a private-sector outreach program that has faced persistent doubts from Congress.

The July 5 memo seeks to put the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUX) on firmer operational ground by clearly stating its mission as one of scouting promising commercial technologies and "pioneering procurement and acquisition pathways optimized for start-up firms and non-traditional entrants to the defense industry."

The memo also establishes the DIUX Technology Review Group, a governance council to be led by the deputy Defense secretary and charged with reviewing DIUX project proposals.

Lawmakers have expressed enthusiasm for the concept embodied by DIUX but skepticism for actually funding the program, which now has offices in Silicon Valley and Boston.

The House version of the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act stipulates that no more than 80 percent of DIUX's budget be obligated until Carter's office submits a report clarifying the unit's mission and outlining metrics for measuring its success. The new memo seems designed to answer those congressional calls for clarity.

Another of the objectives for DIUX outlined in the memo is to recruit technologists as part of Carter's "Force of the Future" initiative, and also to boost the number of veterans and reserve personnel working in the tech industry.  One such reservist, entrepreneur Raj Shah, took the helm of DIUX in May as part of an organizational shakeup.

The memo comes as legislators such as House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) eye another round of acquisition reform via the NDAA.

Pentagon efforts like DIUX "are not going to be successful if you still have this impenetrable wall of bureaucracy that prevents companies from doing business with the Department of Defense," Thornberry said July 7 at the Heritage Foundation.

"I think Congress can help with that and that's what we're trying to do," he added.

The Senate version of the FY 2017 NDAA offers a drastic response to DOD's acquisition woes by replacing the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics  in part with an official that would be both CTO and top acquisition hand at the department.

Though the House-passed bill did not include that language, Thornberry defended a potential overhaul of AT&L.

"There is a strong sentiment – [on] both sides of the Capitol, both sides of the aisle – that our processes and bureaucracy are not adequate" to address current threats, he said.

Later in the day, Dov Zakheim, a former DOD comptroller, told Thornberry's Armed Services Committee that defense officials aren't sufficiently leveraging existing acquisition regulations to tap new technologies. 

"We tend to go the more conservative route, the more mechanistic route," Zakheim said. "And the more we do that, the more we alienate the very kinds of cutting-edge technologists that we would really want to work with."