Pentagon's High Tech Research Agency Under Investigation

This is Regina Dugan, director of the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. She also co-owns a company that has recently won a number of Darpa contracts—something that has prompted the Pentagon's Inspector General to launch an audit.

There are no signs of wrongdoing. According to a letter released by the IG, it's just "the first in a series of planned audits to review contracting processes" at Darpa.

Dugan's history

Dugan was appointed by the Obama administration in August 2009. Before that, she was a program manager at Darpa from 1996 to 2000. She co-founded RedXDefense in 2005, a company that develops detection and defense technology against explosive devices.

After becoming director of Darpa, RedXDefense won a $1.7 million research contract. Talking to Wired's Danger Room, Darpa spokesman Eric Mazzacone said in March that Dugan didn't have anything to do in the contract with RedXDefense:

At no time did Dr. Dugan participate in any dealings between the Agency and RedXDefense related to the contract.

Back in April, Dugan's deputy said to Danger Room that everyone at Darpa had conflicts of interest, since everyone is tightly connected to the defense industry.

Darpa's freedom

Perhaps that's exactly why they are launching an audit into every contract, to make sure everything clear in the $3 billion budget research agency.

Darpa is one of the most amazing research agencies. They have brought us a lot of incredibly amazing stuff over the years, things have literally changed the world for the best, like the internet or the Global Positioning System. Sometimes they lose a plane or two, but that comes with the job.

Their amazing work doesn't come from specific requests by the military. Darpa is unique because they have a big budget that they choose to spend in whatever they thing may be a good technology breakthrough. Then they think of ways to apply that breakthrough to the needs of the Department of Defense. This is a quote from their own mission statement:

DARPA looks beyond today's known needs and requirements. As military historian John Chambers noted, "None of the most important weapons transforming warfare in the 20th century – the airplane, tank, radar, jet engine, helicopter, electronic computer, not even the atomic bomb – owed its initial development to a doctrinal requirement or request of the military." And to this list, DARPA would add unmanned systems, Global Positioning System (GPS) and Internet technologies.

Part of that is the freedom to spend their budget as they want which, beyond the government watchdog groups' pressure on Dugan's case, is the real reason behind this series of probes. [Wired, POGO]