Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bat-Shit Crazy Scientists Need Love Too

You know, for a nation that constantly complains of waste within the government it's odd that Congress would make another $130 million cut to DARPA. This piece from Wired's Danger Room blog discusses the cut-backs Congress keeps approving to DARPA (who, by the way, brought you the Internet) due to "poor execution". DARPA still has a budget approaching $3 billion but the reasoning behind the cuts defies good sense.
Now the guys at DARPA are the ones who come up with the bat-shit crazy ideas that, when turned into reality, dramatically enhance our technological edge; the use of analog computer to compile artillery trajectories during WWI and the efforts during WWII to decode enemy encryption using analog computers drove refinements of computer design at a far greater pace than during peace-time before hand. Using flat angles on an aircraft to deflect radar signals was another DARPA-led innovation. So DARPA is a damn important wing of the U.S. military and the world at large.
So why is Congress cutting funding under the claim of "poor execution"? Well folks, that's what happens when you have a department head who doesn't want to waste time and money on projects that produce little results or on companies that can't deliver the goods on time and on budget. He'd rather see that money go to other potential projects. While you'd might think that since DARPA is obviously being so efficiently run that such cuts in funding won't affect it you'd miss the larger point--DARPA is the acronym for bat-shit crazy ideas. If a few million spent on one project doesn't produce results then it gets pulled and put into other programs that already are working or new projects that have good potential. More importantly, the DARPA chief is obviously not one to waste time on a company that peddles excuses versus ordered goods.
Instead of cutting DARPA's budget, Congress should use DARPA as a model for all other military programs. By expecting on-time results we'd might see a huge decrease in defense spending. Of course, that could only happen in a world where congressmen and military brass don't find cushy jobs in the defense industries and use their old ties to keep such a brazenly good idea from happening.