The Bush Administration has put a guy who used to work for defense contactors in charge of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Surprise! DARPA is now moving money away from the universities and into the corporate sector. At the same time, it’s moving away from the “blue sky” work that made it famous and toward more routine, short-term-focused, deliverables-based projects.
So DARPA is basically going the way of the Office of Naval Research, as RAND goes the way of Bell Labs. The money for risky, out-of-the-box project work dries up, and the places where it used to happen reinvent themselves doing routinized contract research. It’s a bad business, unless your time horizon is limited by the electoral cycle.
And while I’m ranting, why was there never a DARPA for domestic concerns? Where’s the Education Department’s advanced research projects group? Or the Labor Department’s? NSF is a basic research agency, and its RANN (Research Applied to National Needs) activity never produced much. But there’s no particular reason, other than the fact that the Pentagon usually has more money than it knows what to do with, for all of the blue-sky projects to be funded by DoD.