On Friday, President Obama celebrated Darpa, the Defense Department’s premiere research arm, as a hothouse of “cutting-edge ideas to create new jobs, spark new breakthroughs, [and] reinvigorate American manufacturing.” With agency director Regina Dugan at his side, Obama inspected a new armored vehicle — crowdsourced under Darpa’s auspices, and built and designed in just 14 weeks. “Not only could this change the way the government uses your tax dollars,” Obama beamed, “it may save some lives in places like Afghanistan for our soldiers.”
Lost in the celebration was that the Senate Armed Service Committee, just days before, recommended drastically cutting back Darpa’s budget — and singled out the crowdsourced vehicle project as a problem.
The $150 million proposed cut — more than five percent of Darpa’s $2.98 billion budget — not only pits a powerful Congressional panel against a White House which has made science and technology a priority. It also undermines a key component of Dugan’s management of the agency.