Darpa Takes $300 Million Hit

You'd think that the Defense Department's higher-ups would be happy, when their research agencies start demanding results from the scientists and engineers that they fund. Not necessarily. Inside Defense reports that the Pentagon's comptrollers have slashed Darpa's budget by $300 million -- about 10% - for the next fiscal year. Another $200 million is supposed to come off the top, the year after that. The reason: "A project management oversight structure introduced in DARPA... mandat[ing] that projects are reviewed at regular execution intervals to ensure that they are meeting defined program goals and objectives."darpa_chart.JPGThe switch "has resulted in more effective linking of resources to outcomes," according to "Program Budget Decision 704," an internal Defense Department document obtained by Inside Defense. Which would be a good thing, ordinarily. Except that Darpa hasn't been spending the money it's been given, apparently. While funding for the agency has gone up, up, up since 9/11, the number of program managers hasn't increased as fast. Combined with the new, results-driven process, that "has slowed execution of DARPAs funding.... resulting in a significant decline in obligations and expenditures," says PBD 704. So what happened to all that excess cash? I haven't been able to get a straight answer, yet.The subtext to all this wrangling is the leadership of Darpa chief Tony Tether. In the military research world, he's known as a hands-on manager -- a very, very hands-on manager. No item in his $3 billion budget is too small; even some of the names of Darpa research efforts require his approval. "Nothing happens without his say-so," one Darpa-funded researcher tells me.That's a change for the agency, which has traditionally let its program managers -- and its researchers -- more or less follow their imaginations. Some current and former Darpa types mumble that the quality of research has been undermined, as a result; after all, "Darpa-hard" problems can take longer than six months to solve. But with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are sucking up more and more money, Defense research budgets are tightening up; demanding results doesn't seem like such a bad thing. We'll see how this one shakes out.While PDB 704 takes from Darpa, it adds $300 million to the Reliable Replacement Warhead program. That's the widely-criticized effort to build new nukes -- a construction effort many sage observers thinks is completely unneeded.

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