Deep within the of bowels of the Defense Department is the secretive agency that invented the Internet, known as the Defense Research Projects Agency, aka DARPA, aka the Mad Scientist agency.
With its $3.2 billion budget, the agency is supposed to come up with wild, innovative ideas. Some of their inventions, like military drones, “work,” while others, like psychic CIA agents, robot hummingbirds and mind-bending wormholes, have earned the agency the reputaion of something of a hare-brained money pit.
One of its recent projects, something called the halfnium bomb, apparently ran into problems getting past the basic laws of physics.
President Obama himself recently showered major love on DARPA, hailing it as a source of cutting-edge technology.
At least one aspect of DARPA retains an infuriatingly old-fashioned quality – the reek of conflict-of-interest and nepotism.
Before she became head of the agency in 2009, Regina Dugan started a high-tech explosive detection company called RedX Defense, with her father and her uncle, the Project on Government Oversight reports. She served as CEO and president. Six months after she took over the DARPA, RedX, where her father now serves as CEO, landed a $400,000 contract with the agency, which was recently extended.
Dugan of course, disqualified herself from any decisions regarding her former company when she took over DARPA. The agency’s media office insisted there were no ethical issues with the contract because Dugan didn’t participate in awarding it.
POGO was less generous, and suggested in its understated way, “it surely must have come as a pleasant surprise to learn that DARPA’s contract management office had chosen the company she founded to do work for DARPA.”
Maybe it was a pleasant surprise for Dugan; it was unfortunately no surprise to taxpayers, who have grown way too accustomed to these kinds of shenanigans.