Regina Dugan

DARPA opens up

Research chief Dugan signals detente on work with global partners

Regina Dugan, director of the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), says that her organisation is striking down rules that have prevented foreign nationals and universities working on most of the projects it funds.

The move is part of an attempt by DARPA to improve its relationship with the academic community, both at home and abroad. Dugan acknowledged that there “had been a breach” in that relationship during the last Bush administration caused by policies and contracts that blocked pre-publication review, the employment of non-US citizens on DARPA-commissioned research projects and global collaboration.

Specifically, restrictions had often been applied to fundamental research that did not in itself have national security implications for the US. Dugan said that henceforth any bans applied to basic research would be the exception rather than the rule, with the burden now falling on the US Department of Defence to show why they should be applied rather than them being the default position.

Already, she said that as a result of the new policy, “We are seeing more engagement through our university partners with [international institutions].”

Dugan said that the agency now acknowledges that its ‘almost unique” role in positioning a military organisation in Pasteur’s Quadrant, the gap between basic and applied research means that it has to take a practical view.

DARPA’s new policy also reflects ongoing budgetary concerns about basic research. As national governments cut back in this area because of the recent recession, the need for greater global collaboration on addressing fundamental challenges has become more pressing.

Nevertheless, as projects move into more applied phases, particularly where specific defence uses become apparent, DARPA will maintain its traditional high levels of secrecy.

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