Gathering IT intelligence
- By Paula Shaki Trimble
- Jun 05, 2000
It's no secret: The CIA hopes its independent corporation, In-Q-Tel, will
serve as a model for other agencies trying to keep up in Internet time.
Facing a shortage of talent, time and funding for research and development,
the intelligence agency decided in May 1998 to try a commercial approach
to information technology incubation.
In-Q-Tel exists solely to help identify and develop
breakthrough IT that the CIA can use to modernize its systems.
In venture capital style, In-Q-Tel, launched with $28 million in fiscal
1999, helps IT researchers create successful commercial products with the
CIA's needs in mind, said Basil Scott, technical director of the Q Interface
Center at the CIA.
In-Q-Tel finds interesting, mature research that meets the CIA's needs
and can be ready for beta testing at the agency within a year, Scott said
during last month's dg.o 2000 workshop in Los Angeles,
which highlighted National Science Foundation-funded research. In-Q-Tel
helps transfer the solution into the CIA, which avoids the high costs of
creating custom IT products.
In-Q-Tel already has established some promising relationships. For example,
the company is investing in software developed by Science Applications International
Corp. that can withstand denial-of-service attacks.
"We've really had a chance to connect with the commercial world," Scott
said. "We find companies and technology we otherwise would not."
Investing in commercially developed technology will save the government
money in the long run, Scott said, but he acknowledged that the concept
has sparked skepticism and controversy. Some issues include the near-term
focus of industry's IT development, procurement regulations and congressional
oversight, he said. It also raises questions as to whether the government
should own intellectual property developed by a commercial entity, he said.
Competition is another area of concern. In-Q-Tel's investments could be
perceived as having the inside track in CIA procurements, according to Melvyn
Ciment, director of information technologies at the Potomac Institute for
Policy Studies. With the short time it takes to bring IT from development
to application, it is feasible that technology developed with In-Q-Tel funds
would be ready for acquisition on CIA's time line.
Scott said the CIA has encouraged competition and has successfully dealt
with three situations in which the issue came up. "We need to assure that
In-Q-Tel is for research and prototypes, not operational systems that are
procured," Scott said. In-Q-Tel has a competition policy that requires a
market survey to be conducted to find out if a proposal is unique before
any decisions are made, he said.
The CIA itself had significant concerns initially, especially regarding
the security of allowing commercial insight into CIA requirements and using
commercial rather than custom products, Scott said.
"In the last six months, we have overcome a lot of those suspicions,"
Government venture capital may be the way to encourage risk-taking in
government, said Roger Baker, chief information officer at the Commerce
Department. Such an arrangement may produce better returns for less investment
than awarding research and development contracts, he said.
"There are things the NSA and CIA need to encourage from an R&D
standpoint that the commercial arena doesn't need," Baker said. "Doing it
from a venture capital approach may be better in the long ru
IT problems are not so different from the private sector that they require
dedicated research efforts, Baker said. Government and industry should work
together, and this approach could be one way to do it. "The more we utilize
the path the private sector's already shown, the better we already are."
The Transportation Department may look at the In-Q-Tel model for advances
in intelligent transportation systems, but not for IT in general, said
George Molaski, CIO at the Transportation Department.