The Senate Armed Services Committee has ordered an investigation into the research efforts of America's military labs, including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).According to a Senate source, the Committee is concerned that money for basic research -- studies that "increase fundamental knowledge and understanding," according to Pentagon regulations -- is "being raided to fund near-term goals."DARPA has long been the military's center for "pie in the sky" inquiries. And these efforts have generated stunning successes -- not the least of which is the ARPANET, the Internet's precursor.But, at times in its history, DARPA has tried to justify its existence by wandering into the realm of the concrete, Duke University military history professor Alex Roland tells Defense Tech."The biggest criticism that can be leveled at DARPA from the mid-1990s on is their telescope receded from distant galaxies to the nearby planets," Kenneth Flamm, who oversaw technology Defense Department projects during the Clinton era, told Technology Review in 2001. During the Clinton administration, he said, DARPA acceded to "pressure to show more military relevance."In 1983, basic research was close to 20 percent of Defense Department science and technology spending, notes Coalition for National Security Research co-chair Elaine McCusker. Now, that's down to about 12 percent.The National Academy of Sciences has been asked to conduct the investigation. Information technology programs are considered particularly suspect, our Senate source says. But controversial DARPA projects in this area, like Total Information Awareness and LifeLog, will not be the focus on the inquiry.
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