SIMI VALLEY, Calif -- Armed with new contracting authorities and a mandate to help the U.S. military stay head of peer competitors, the Pentagon's Defense Innovation Unit is bringing new commercial partners into the fold and expanding its technological focus.
DIU was launched in 2015 by then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to bridge the gap between the military and the nation's tech hubs. It is headquartered in Mountain View, California, in Silicon Valley, with additional outposts in Austin, Texas, Boston and the Pentagon.
"More and more of what the department needs going into the future is dual-use technology, which means it's equally or more important in the commercial space as it is for the military. So we've got to leverage what's going on with the tremendous innovation hubs that we have around the country and make sure those companies... are thinking about the Department of Defense," DIU Director Michael Brown said during a panel at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California.
The organization has three core mission sets: accelerate commercial technology to the warfighter; boost the military's capability and capacity by taking on transformative projects that can be scaled across platforms and across the services; and grow the national security innovation base.
Its offices in Austin, Boston and Silicon Valley are focused primarily on commercial outreach, while the one in Washington, D.C., engages with military partners such as service acquisition executives.
"We start with the DoD customer with a DoD problem," Mike Madsen, DIU's director of strategic engagement, explained in an interview. "Then we put that out to the tech sector and get the imaginative minds in the tech sector to help solve our problems."
Over the past year or so, DIU's hand has been strengthened by a number of initiatives, he noted.
A crucial one was Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord's decision to give the organization new contracting authorities, including the ability to directly enter into other transaction authority agreements that are intended to cut through bureaucratic red tape associated with the Pentagon's traditional acquisition procedures.
"She delegated that authority so that we could award our own OTA contracts, which is a pretty big deal to continue moving fast," Madsen said.
OTA mechanisms favor nontraditional suppliers, he noted, "whether it's a couple of folks in a garage in Minnesota or whether it's a Fortune 100 company in Silicon Valley that just have never done business before with the department."
The Defense Innovation Unit has awarded about 150 contracts to 122 nontraditional vendors...