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3/13/2012
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DARPA Director Leaving For Google

Agency's first female director will take a senior executive position at the search giant.

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The first female director of the Department of Defense's (DoD's) leading research agency is leaving the public sector to take a senior executive position at Google.

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Director Regina Dugan, who took her post on July 20, 2009, will leave the agency in a few weeks, spokespeople from both Google and DARPA confirmed Monday. She currently is helping transition Deputy Director Kaigham Gabriel to serve as acting director upon her departure.

"Regina is a technical pioneer who brought the future of technology to the military during her time at DARPA," a Google spokesperson said via email. "She will be a real asset to Google and we are thrilled she is joining the team." The spokesperson declined to comment on the position Dugan will take at the company.

A DARPA executive also commented on Dugan's progressive take on technology in her time as director. "Regina Dugan's leadership at DARPA has been extraordinary and she will be missed throughout the department," said Frank Kendall, acting undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, in a press statement. "We are all very grateful for the many contributions she has made in advancing the technologies that our war fighters depend on."

[ Todd Park, known for his work in open government, has been named the new federal chief technology officer. Read more at White House Names New Federal CTO. ]

In her nearly three years at DARPA, Dugan did indeed leverage current technology innovations in the agency's research work. For her efforts, she was named one of Informationweek's top 50 most influential government CIOs.

DARPA explored crowdsourcing in projects like The Shredder Challenge, which invited the public to create computational methods to decode shredded bits of paper. Currently, the military uses manual methods to piece together shredded documents soldiers find during military engagements to gather intelligence information.

DARPA also embarked on research to leverage social networking as a data-mining tool and to explore the overall power of the medium. One of the first significant projects under Dugan--2009's Red Balloon Challenge--proved the latter when it took the competition's winner only eight hours and 52 minutes to find eight red weather balloons tethered 100 feet off the ground in undisclosed locations throughout the United States.

Robotics research also thrived during Dugan's tenure. About a year ago, the agency consolidated and expanded multiple robotics efforts under the Maximum Mobility and Manipulation, or M3, program umbrella. The result of one of those projects--a robot called Cheetah--recently set a new land-speed record for four-legged robots.

These accomplishments occurred in a relatively short period of time, though DARPA's Mazzacone said it's typical for agency directors to serve about two to three years in the position. However, Dugan's predecessor, Tony Tether, was director for eight years.

Dugan's stint at the agency was not without controversy. The DoD Inspector General is currently auditing millions of dollars in contracts to a company that Dugan partly owns, RedXDefense, awarded by DARPA while she was director.

The DoD IG confirmed the audits in letters written in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by an independent government watchdog organization, Project on Government Oversight (POGO), according to documents POGO posted online. The DoD IG did not immediately return repeated requests for comment on the status of the investigation Tuesday.

InformationWeek's 2012 Government IT Innovators program will feature the most innovative government IT organizations in the 2012 InformationWeek 500 issue and on InformationWeek.com. Does your organization have what it takes? The nomination period for 2012 Government IT Innovators closes April 27.

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