What makes DARPA tick

  • Conservative nature of academia made Ben Mann want to do other things. Also worked at National Science Foundation - NSF
  • Inbreeding because people find their own replacements
  • Agency veterans say the prospect of becoming a funding czar is a powerful recruiting tool.
    • ::People who want to go into vc but are more sciency?::
  • In 2015, DARPA spent just 12% of its budget—or about $350 mil- lion—on basic research
  • GAO study found 50% of projects they looked at made transition - people need to have asked for it
  • Ben Mann’s metrics for success: “My ideal program would run for 3 to 4 years, take the technical excuses off the table, and create a community of users, be it in the military, academia, or industry, and preferably all three,” he says. “I think most of my programs did that.”
  • Will fund wacky things
    • sonofusion
  • Director can come in and pull plugs

    • That didn’t come to pass. Mann left DARPA in 2010 after Dugan became the first DARPA director chosen by the Obama administration. “I had too much of Tony Tether’s DNA on me, and Regina pulled the plug on everything I was doing,” he says. “But that’s OK. I don’t blame her for wanting to do something different.”
      -“I never really felt constrained by money,” Tether says. “I was more constrained by ideas.” In fact, aerospace engineer Verne (Larry) Lynn, DARPA’s director from 1995 to 1998, says he successfully lobbied Congress to shrink his budget after the Clinton administration had boosted it to “dangerous levels” to finance a short-lived technology reinvestment program. “When an organization becomes bigger, it becomes more bureaucratic,” Lynn told an interviewer in 2006.
  • For starters,National Science Foundation - NSF program managers rarely get the chance to jump-start a new research program; most of the agency’s budget is already committed to ongoing projects. In addition, NSF’s mission is to support entire disciplines, so program officers can’t place too many of their chips on one bet.

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Jeffrey Mervis

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What makes DARPA tick? | Science

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