Independent research and development (IR&D) is a type of defense innovation in which companies are reimbursed for work that the government did not request. Its goal is to give companies broad latitude to innovate, exercising judgment and expertise the government may lack. A recent study by the Government Accountability Office found that only about 40% of IR&D projects align closely with Pentagon modernization priorities, and that two-thirds are not focused on game-changing (“disruptive”) breakthroughs. However, GAO’s methodology is suspect. The priorities against which projects were evaluated did not exist when the projects were begun. GAO didn’t look at secret research. Closer alignment with official priorities might undercut the value of independent research. These and other issues make GAO’s findings of questionable value. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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