Building a Bigger Tent for Technology Innovators: The Government Is More Creative than You Think
This week, Jonathan Aberman, Managing Director of TandemNSI, released a White Paper titled Building a Bigger Tent for Technology Innovators: The Government is More Creative than You Think. Below you will find the Executive Summary. Download the entire White Paper here.
United States national security agencies, particularly the Department of Defense, have struggled to keep up with the realities of creating and developing technology in the twenty-first century. These struggles jeopardize America’s ability to deter and respond to national security threats. Moreover, the growing disconnect between national security research and development, on the one hand, and startup entrepreneurship on the other threatens the US’s economic primacy. Some Pentagon officials have admitted that they do not understand how cyber security fits into the military mission, at the same time that foreign-based hackers and software developers intrude into civilian and government systems at a growing rate and damaging level. Others have acknowledged that the Defense Department’s acquisition apparatus is ill-equipped to keep up with the fast pace of technology development, even if our leaders completely understood how to apply new technologies.
In order to meet these challenges, the national security establishment must engage with and use the abilities of individuals and small businesses not currently part of the national security establishment. These “nontraditional performers” are entrepreneurial, fast-moving and, in many cases, developing technologies that outperform research and products from traditional defense industry sources. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric once observed “when the rate of change inside an organization is less than the rate of change outside the end is in sight.” He wasn’t specifically taking about the national security agencies when he made that statement, but he could have been.
Engaging nontraditional performers is heavily constrained by federal contracting rules, institutional conservatism and government secrecy requirements. Each of these limits nontraditional performer engagement. Taken together, they provide an almost insurmountable challenge that many nontraditional performers are simply unwilling to attack.
U.S. national security agencies have experimented with several approaches to overcome existing constraints. For example, they have been successful with the Cyber Track Fast Track Program and their growing use of challenge prize competitions. U.S. Special Operations Command is relying on a unique program to engage nontraditional sources to develop the next generation combat suit for America’s elite Special Forces units. These programs put the lie to the idea that government cannot act nimbly. Moreover, these experimental approaches have resulted in nontraditional performer engagement and advanced national security interests.
The national security agencies now have the field-tested, successful templates they need to reach nontraditional performers. The issue now is how the agencies can take their experimental approaches and make them commonplace. The templates described in this Report show the richness of the approaches and opportunities. A growing national security crisis will occur if we do not act to apply them more effectively and broadly.