Defense

DOD's head of Silicon Valley outreach sees post-Sony opening

George Duchak

George Duchak director of the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental

There has been a "sea change" in the willingness of big Silicon Valley firms to work with the Pentagon since the devastating hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment last year, according to George Duchak, the recently named head of the Defense Department's Silicon Valley outreach office.

"I think they [Silicon Valley firms] see that…working with the U.S. government has some benefits to protect some of the things that they're doing," Duchak said Oct. 28 at a conference hosted by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. Google has been "very receptive" to the Pentagon's overtures, he added, while Apple has been less so.

Duchak, director of the nascent Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUX), later told reporters that his sense of a warmer reception from Silicon Valley of late was based on anecdotal impressions rather than hard evidence.  But perceptions matter as defense officials continue to court entrepreneurs outside of what is dubbed the "traditional contracting base."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee observed that Silicon Valley companies don't want to get "involved in the labyrinth that is called defense acquisition," at a recent Brookings Institution event on reforming defense procurement.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter has vigorously courted Silicon Valley in a bid to rejuvenate the way the Pentagon does business. Carter unveiled the department's new cyber strategy and the creation of DIUX in an April trip to Northern California.

A key charge of DIUX is to more swiftly connect DOD users in search of technologies with the entrepreneurs who are developing them. Carter gave explicit instructions to DIUX to "hot-wire the system," said Duchak, a former director of the Air Force Research Laboratory's Information Directorate. "To me, that almost sounds like an admission that business as usual isn't working," he said -- and that keeping pace with innovation requires circumventing the traditional acquisition process.

Carter, who previously served as the Pentagon's top acquisition official, is "very much concerned…that our current system lacks the agility and the speed to provide technologies that we need" in a fast-changing world, according to Duchak.

Cybersecurity and enterprise IT are two topics Duchak said he is eyeing as head of DIUX. "Every dollar we could save on being more efficient on [enterprise systems] are dollars that we could apply to the front end of…our DOD mission," Duchak said.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is a former FCW staff writer.

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