HSARPA seeks the best of the new

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Real genius

When officials at the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency invited the private sector to present the latest and greatest technology to combat terrorism, they were inundated with more than 500 white papers.

Now, the agency, launched under the Homeland Security Department last year, must find the best of the best. Director David Bolka spoke about the agency's role and challenges.

Q: Were you surprised by the response from the private sector?

A: We've been encouraging those kinds of responses. We held industry days where we had 200 attendees from 170 companies where we asked small businesses how [we] could work with them. The response was to more effectively plumb the technology in the private sector and, second, to more effectively contract with them.

Q: Has any of the technology you've seen thus far been surprising?

A: I'm not so much surprised by the technology as the opportunity to apply it in ways that are different from what the inventors initially thought. A lot of the technology we're looking at, particularly in the chemical/biological and radiation/nuclear area, has been under development for a while or it has been available in academic laboratories and private-sector applications. It has not been applied in the anti-terrorism detection area.

Q: How do you deal with the challenge of running a new agency?

A: I've had about 15 years of [research and development experience] in government and 13 years of R&D in industry. There is a happy medium between the two. The industry outlook on getting things done quickly, looking for return on investment and cutting through a lot of the red tape in order to make that happen is a set of principles we can apply in this organization and in this start-up. Congress [had the foresight] in the legislation that established us in giving us the personnel authority to hire appropriate people and the contracting authority to deal with small companies, particularly companies [that] don't want to engage in Federal Acquisition Regulation-compliant contracts. There is a happy medium between an innovative government agency and the best of the commercial research organizations like [Lucent Technologies] Bell Labs and IBM [Corp.] labs that we can bring to bear here.

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