Pentagon’s DIU picks new leader amid existential changes

After nearly seven months without an official leader, the Defense Department’s incubator for innovative projects and companies hired Michael Brown as managing director.

Brown comes into the position at a time when the Defense Innovation Unit, formerly the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, is going through a time of introspection to find exactly where it fits within the larger DoD construct.

Brown is the former CEO of Symantec, a major software company based in Mountain View, California. He also served as a White House Innovation Fellow.

“There is no better person than Mike Brown to lead DIU into its next chapter,” said Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin, in a Sept. 24 release from DIU. “Mike’s extensive Silicon Valley career speaks for itself, as he has experience in both hardware from his time at Quantum, as well as software at Symantec. Mike’s notable academic contributions in both assessment of Chinese technological advances and Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States reform round out his unique background, and I am pleased that he chose to serve our nation as DIU director.”

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DIU stated the initial goals for the new leadership are to continue delivering advanced commercial technology faster and cheaper than traditional methods and to focus on solving the most important national defense problems with technologies that yield transformational, strategic capabilities.

In total, DIU oversees five portfolios. Since launching in 2016, DIU awarded 81 prototype contracts, but only 13 of those transitioned to service members.

Former Managing Director Raj Shah left DIU in February.  Sean Heritage  ran the organization in the interim.

In August, DoD announced it was taking the “experimental” out of the DIU name. Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said the change “reflects DIU’s permanence within the DoD. Though DIU will continue to experiment with new ways of delivering capability to the warfighter, the organization itself is no long an experiment.”

However, in an interview with Federal News Radio, then-DIU interim Managing Director Heritage said the organization was rethinking some of its practices.

“We are going through a period of thoughtful reflection. Recent experiences, some of which have been rather public, have given us reason to really embrace the fact that we are a learning organization,” Heritage said. “And as we continue to experiment there’s going to be hiccups and things we learn along the way and it’s important that we are modifying our processes and ways of doing business as a result.”

One of those hiccups is the REAN Cloud agreement.

DIU awarded a $950 million other transaction agreement to REAN Cloud in February, but Pentagon officials overruled DIU and narrowed the agreement’s value to just $65 million. It was later successfully protested by Oracle, and overturned entirely.

DIU is now taking some time to make rethink the way it creates contracts so they stick, Heritage said last month.

“It’s about how we communicate and how we write contracts from the beginning, so those who are looking in from the outside won’t question things as we move to production and won’t have reason to question them. This is more about satisfying others,” Heritage said.