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Disrupting government: Turning to innovation in its own back yard


Hubs of innovation inevitably have a key factor – a geographic advantage or access to resources that make them uniquely positioned to be the renowned centers they are. For example, Boston is the home of some of the nation’s top medical programs (think Harvard and MIT), making it a hub for healthcare and pharmaceuticals. California has become a major renewable energy hub with some of the largest geothermal, wind and solar power plants in the world, thanks in part to being home to many top university technology programs. It does not hurt that the state also happens to have abundant sunshine and wind.

The National Capital Region has our own unique advantage: the federal government. We are home to many of the top minds in technology, intelligence and all things cybersecurity. Between government agencies, government contractors and private companies partnering with the public sector, the region is rich with tech talent, research and resources.

{mosads}So why is the federal government looking elsewhere for innovation?

In 2014 the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) was created by Defense Secretary Ash Carter to help the military take advantage of high-tech innovations developed in the commercial marketplace. With offices in Silicon Valley, Boston and Austin, DIUx and its reboot DIUx 2.0 have had some ups and downs, and its congressional funding is far from guaranteed. Further, there is not any clear indication that the program will be continued under a Trump administration.

Yet, the benefits of partnering with the commercial technology sector to embrace a culture of innovation ARE within reach for the federal government. Policy leaders and acquisition professionals do not have to look any further than their own back yard to find it. From startups to Fortune 500 companies to leading incubators, the National Capital Region is home to a vibrant technology community that is on the cutting-edge of innovation.

Companies that are willing to plant roots here can apply their innovative work to serving our citizens and helping the country reach its goals. Being in the National Capital Region offers many opportunities to collaborate with the best and brightest who are working to stop the next cyber attack, revolutionize data analytics or finally bring artificial intelligence to fruition. Proximity to innovation-focused government entities like DARPA and In-Q-Tel is another benefit of the region.

Companies in our region have a strong history of innovation and they are adept at applying their technological creativity to the missions of government. Cybersecurity accelerators like MACH37 in Northern Virginia (the only one in the country) and incubators like 1776 also are working hard to fuel commercial startups that keep the region ahead of the curve. And our region’s technology workforce – fueled by unparalleled local universities and community colleges – rivals other areas like Silicon Valley and Boston, particularly in critical industries like cybersecurity.

Further, defense contractors located in our region already enjoy a unique, symbiotic relationship with the vibrant commercial sector in our region, and this connection strengthens companies’ ability to serve federal clients.

Over the last few years, leaders like Wes Bush, chairman, president and CEO of Northrop Grumman, and Teresa Carlson, vice president, Worldwide Public Sector at Amazon Web Services, have championed the innovative solutions that the federal contractor community already provides to address national security issues. Carlson wisely stated that, while inventors and builders here have a traditional background in government, “it doesn’t mean they’re not disruptors.”

She is right. Confining the government’s search for innovation to only one or two areas of the country is shortsighted. The National Capital Region offers a thriving technology community with its own share of disruptors and innovators, many of whom already have experience serving government clients, who can more than meet the changing needs of our government. Why overlook the innovation that is right in the government’s own backyard?

Bobbie Kilberg, President and CEO of Northern Virginia Technology Council

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.


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