Trends in Government Contracting
New Technology Models for the U.S. Government
by Carol Ingley
Week of October 21, 2019 through Week of November 18, 2019
Traditional Innovative Technology Models. What happens when the basic way the U.S. government has run regarding new and cutting-edge technology doesn’t quite work anymore?
Traditionally, the U.S. government has taken a proactive stance in regard to new technology using two different models: Innovative Technology Model 1: Nurture technology within the U.S. government that is eventually released to the private sector; and Innovative Technology Model 2: Nurture technology within the U.S. government, maintain it within the U.S. government but make it available to the private sector.
Innovative Technology Model 1: One example of a technology that was nurtured by the U.S. government and then released to the private sector is ARPANET, the precursor to the internet. There’s some history behind ARPANET that shows the investment by the U.S. government. It began with the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) -- now known as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). ARPA was created in 1958 by then President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It was created in response to the launch of Sputnik I by the Soviet Union.
Back to ARPANET -- ARPANET was a packet-switching network that also used the TCP/IP protocol. And those are the two technologies that form the foundation of the internet. Essentially, the internet was spun off from this government-funded technology.
Innovative Technology Model 2: A good example of the U.S. government nurturing and developing a technology, keeping it as part of the U.S. government but making it available to the private sector is GPS.
The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a satellite-based radionavigation system. The system is owned by the United States government and operated by the United States Air Force. It provides geolocation and time information to a GPS receiver anywhere globally. However, in order to communicate with the GPS system, there must be an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites. GPS is widely used and has been phenomenally successful.
These are only two examples -- ARPANET and GPS -- of technological leaps that the U.S. government has played a key leading role.
Change is Here. Technology now is moving much faster and much of the R&D that the U.S. government fostered is being done by the private sector. What is happening now is best summed up by Farhad Manjoo, a New York Times tech columnist. He explains the evolution from a government involvement model to a more corporate model for developing new technology in an NPR interview.
Manjoo says: “ …many of the technologies that we use today at kind of their earliest levels were started by grants for the Defense Department or just kind of basic science research. Now a lot of that is being done by these companies. Artificial intelligence is kind of the primary example. These companies are going to be building the future of transportation in the United States, in the world. You know, they're building self-driving cars. They're building drones. They're building kind of the infrastructure of the United States - the infrastructure of the next 20, 30, 40 years in ways that we used to look to kind of governments to do. You know, Amazon has a fleet of planes, drones. It is in the kind of shipping business.”
New Innovative Technology Models Needed. In short, the U.S. government needs these new technologies from the private sector that Farhad Manjoo speaks about. Here is a definition of New Innovative Technology Models for the U.S. government: Innovative technology that has been nurtured and developed within the private sector is adapted by the U.S. government. This adaptation occurs in a variety of ways.
What kind of new models are now needed? According to William Eggers and Max Meyers in a FCW article, “The Defense Department has long relied on a large industrial base to efficiently supply military equipment. What’s important today is to broaden the base to include nontraditional players and startups that offer exposure to a wide portfolio of innovations.”
But it’s more a radical change in thinking than anything else. Here are two sample models: New Innovative Technology Model 1: Partner with innovative smaller companies by the U.S. government. New Innovative Technology Model 2: Diversify the types of suppliers used by the U.S. government. Go directly to the innovative smaller companies for purchase.
While this may not be seen like that dramatic a change in procurement, many of the innovations the government uses now come from large companies such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon, who in turn subcontract with these innovative, smaller companies.
Mindset Change. The real change will be a mindset change for the U.S. government. Thinking in terms of innovation across all aspects of the government is a shift that impacts everyone in the government. That kind of broad change is not easy but imperative in an environment of rapid change that includes artificial intelligence, drones, driverless cars, rapid changes in cybersecurity, increased role of the cloud and so much more.
Trends in Government Contracting by iPTW