The Pentagon agency that gave us the Predator drone, the Atlas robot, and an early version of the Internet is dealing with a much more pedestrian issue today: a Defense Department Inspector General report finding that its former director improperly used her influential position in an attempt to benefit a company she had founded.
The heavily-redacted IG report found that Dr. Regina Dugan, who was director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) from 2009 to 2012, improperly used her position to “endorse a product, service or enterprise.”
Before coming to work for DARPA, Dugan founded RedXDefense and served as the firm’s president and CEO. Among other things, RedX makes a suite of products, including backpacks full of bomb-detection equipment meant to be fitted on dogs. It markets these products to law enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security, and the military.
The IG report, which was reported on Wednesday by The Military Times, determined that in briefings with Department of Defense officials and in other communications in her capacity as head of DARPA, Dugan repeatedly delivered an implicit endorsement of her former company’s product.
Though she did not explicitly name the firm, she used visual aids in her presentations that included copyrighted material from the company, including its name. She also used the company’s slogan, printed in the same style the company used, in her presentations.
Her actions, the IG found, created new business opportunities for RedX. The company apparently failed to capitalize on them, however, because the report also noted that they resulted in no new revenue for the company.
Dugan resigned from DARPA in 2012, after the investigation got underway. Though the IG determined she had acted improperly, it did not recommend any action be taken against her.
The investigation of Dugan’s activities was spurred by the Washington-based Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a not-for-profit watchdog group, which in 2011 filed a complaint about how RedX was receiving federal contracts even after Dugan took over DARPA.
“That’s one of our concerns with people who come and go in the government and to and from the private sector,” said Scott Amey, general counsel for POGO. “Is this the worst ethics violation I’ve ever seen? No. But it raises the question of whether these people can be trusted to put the interests of the government ahead of the interests of their companies.”
He said POGO was disappointed by the IG’s decision not to seek some sort of sanction in the case.
“In the end, it seems as though the IG made a determination of ‘No harm, no foul,’” he said. “That shouldn’t be reason to diminish the fact that the IG did find that there was a violation of law. We need to take a look at why these violations keep popping up.”
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