DARPA director Regina Dugan will soon be stepping down from her position atop the Pentagon’s premiere research shop to take a job with Google. Dugan, whose controversial tenure at the agency lasted just under three years, was “offered and accepted at senior executive position” with the internet giant, according to Darpa spokesman Eric Mazzacone. She felt she couldn’t say no to such an “innovative company,” he adds.
Dugan’s emphasis on cybersecurity and next-generation manufacturing earned her strong support from the White House, winning her praise from the President and maintaining the agency’s budget even during a period of relative austerity at the Pentagon. Her push into crowdsourcing and outreach to the hacker community were eye-openers in the often-closed world of military R&D. Dugan also won over some military commanders by diverting some of her research cash from long-term projects to immediate, battlefield concerns.
“Regina Dugan’s leadership at DARPA has been extraordinary and she will be missed throughout the Department. We are all very grateful for the many contributions she has made in advancing the technologies that our war fighters depend on. She leaves for an exciting new opportunity and we wish her every success,” Frank Kendall, Acting Under Secretary of defence for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, says in a statement.
Yet Dugan was a highly polarising figure within her agency, and in the larger defence research community. The Pentagon’s inspector general is actively investigating hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of contracts that Darpa gave out to RedX Defense — a firm that Dugan co-founded and still partially owns. A separate audit is examining every other research contract DARPA has signed during Dugan’s tenure, to “determine the adequacy of Darpa’s selection, award, and administration of contracts and grants,” according to a military memorandum.
The Inspector General’s work had “no impact” on Dugan’s decision, according to her spokesman, Mazzacone. “The only reason” she decided to leave the Pentagon was the allure of working at Google.
Dugan is expected to depart “sometime in the next few weeks,” he adds in an email. Darpa deputy director Kaigham “Ken” Gabriel, who has overseen the agency’s day-to-day operations since mid-2009, will serve as the acting Darpa chief. He’ll certainly be a strong contender for the permanent position, as will Lisa Porter, the head of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity — DARPA’s counterpart in the intelligence community.