Ash Carter on DIUx 1.0: Speed was the issue

Defense Secretary Ash Carter addresses members of the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental. (Defense Department)

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Looking back at the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental’s first iteration, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told an audience of techies Tuesday in San Francisco the program’s lack of speed was its biggest problem.

“We weren’t as agile as the people we wanted to connect to want to be,” Carter said Tuesday at TechCrunch Disrupt.

DIUx was not dispensing money fast enough to innovate, Carter said. “It took too long.”

“People here, if you tell them they have a six-month horizon or a one-year horizon — that’s too long for people,” he said. “So we needed to shrink that horizon.”

His candid comments echo an often-voiced issue in the Beltway: How do agencies adopt the latest and greatest emerging technologies when government procurement and budgeting requirements slow down the process? The government, some say, is not an easy customer.

[Read more: Agencies are bad IT customers, but getting better — officials]

DIUx came under fire in May from lawmakers who said it focused too much in its original form on one geographic region, invested too much at an early stage and failed to make contracting more accessible for nontraditional companies.

[Read more: Obama threatens veto of defense bill over tech outpost funding]

“It’s experimental so we did the experiment, and we said, ‘Whoops.’ Our first shot at this didn’t have it all right,” Carter said. “So I changed a number of things.”

DIUx’s second iteration should condense that horizon, Carter said, with changes to a flatter leadership structure in which DIUx’s chief reports directly to the secretary. Carter unveiled DIUx 2.0 in May with the new leadership structure and a new Boston office.

He also announced a new way for DIUx 2.0 to more quickly acquire technology in July.

“The idea is right, that’s why I’m building on it,” Carter said Tuesday. “At the same time… if you’re heading down a certain path and it’s not working right, you need to quickly jump to an alternative.”

He said he wishes the department “did everything that way.”

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Department of Defense (DOD), Departments
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