Why is Dual Use Technology So Important?

-As shared by Katie Bilek

As it pertains to our federal ecosystem, the concept of dual use technology seems desirable.  What’s not to like? Building and creating a mutually beneficial technology or product leveraging economies of scale while enabling the performer to forgo the typical mind-numbing bureaucracy that ensues when doing business with the government seems like a definite win, right? 

The argument for fostering and perpetuating more dual use technologies in the federal community is an economic one, appealing to the stingiest of taxpayers and tip-of-the-spear operators alike.   For those stakeholders, program offices, and end users, the shared investment in R&D spreads the cost of the project while enabling them to take advantage of competitive requirements generated by the open market.  For the company that owns the technology, a commercially viable product that generates revenue independent of federal customer demand provides diversification, reducing concentration risk and reliance on a single customer.  

For decades, the US Federal government has limited its pool of eligible contractors by gradually imposing regulations and business practices on its contracting community that result in a specialized, expensive, and seemingly heavily regulated marketplace.  While our contractor community has evolved into a robust group of organizations that passionately support the mission (and they do a damn good job at it!), we must also applaud their ability to adeptly maneuver the federal procurement environment with pricey CAS accounting systems, endless patience for federal lead times, and a vocabulary of acronyms that could qualify as its own language.   They know the rules of the game, and they know how to play it – which means those who don’t have the rulebook are inevitably excluded from participating at all.  

While the nature of the federal space ensures the US government has access to organizations that can comply with all of their administrative and technical requirements, that does not necessarily ensure access to the best technology.   Technology development has continued to outpace the government, with DoD’s share of the R&D funding market significantly eclipsed by other funding sources.  

These comments are in no way intended to diminish the accomplishments and work of traditional defense contractors. Rather, I embrace the collaborative approach to funding dual-use technologies that can serve both defense and commercial missions.   When done correctly, this can help to accelerate development, reduce costs, and simultaneously encourage new entrants to the federal marketplace.  In our current era, let’s just hope that’s something we can all agree on.