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IG: Former DARPA head promoted own company, violating rules

Aug. 13, 2014 - 08:42PM   |  
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Regina Dugan (Slaven Vlasic / Getty Images)
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A former director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency used her influential position to help shine a spotlight on a high-tech research company that she created, actions that the Defense Department Inspector General says violated ethics rules.

Regina Dugan, the former head of DARPA, resigned from her post in 2012 and took a top job with Google several months after an investigation got underway, according to the IG report obtained by Military Times.

When Dugan became DARPA director in 2009, she had “conflicting financial interests” in RedX Defense, a bomb-detection technology firm that she founded and led as president and CEO, according to the IG report.

“We determined that Dr. Dugan violated the [Joint Ethics Regulation] prohibition against using her Government position for the stated or implied endorsement of a product, service, or enterprise,” the report said.

The IG investigation stemmed from a 2011 complaint from the Project on Government Oversight, or POGO, a not-for-profit watchdog group, that said RedX Defense had received $1.75 million in contracts after Dugan became DARPA director and that she continued to hold a financial stake in the company.

POGO attorney Scott Amey said after reaading the report that “it highlights concerns with the revolving door and problems in actually enforcing restrictions on people that come and go from the public sector and the private sector.

“Unfortunately I think this is more the rule than the exception,” Amey said.

The IG’s office completed its investigation in late 2012 but only recently released its report to Military Times following a request filed in December.

The IG did not recommend any disciplinary action for Dugan, who was no longer a government employee by the time the investigation was completed.

The IG also found that Dugan consulted with DARPA attorneys about the matter but failed to “fully disclose all the relevant circumstances,” including failure to note her intent to use specific RedX copyrighted material and other sales materials in briefings with senior defense officials.

Overall, Dugan “created the appearance of a violation of a law or ethical standards,” the IG found.

Dugan founded RedX Defense in 2005 to develop bomb-detecting technology after working on similar efforts as a government researcher from 1996 to 2003. The company produced products that could potentially help combat troops identify explosives. One company project suggested using off-leash dogs as “sensor platforms” to spot explosives, according to the IG.

Dugan’s controversial relationship with RedX was first reported in 2012 by Wired magazine’s Danger Room news website. One Wired report raised questions about the effectiveness of the company’s products, quoting one military official saying it was less effective than a “coin flip” in identifying explosives.

Dugan disputed the IG’s findings and said her actions did not rise to the level of a violation of ethics rules. However, “after carefully considering Dr. Dugan’s response, we stand by our original conclusion,” the IG report said.

A spokesperson for Google told Military Times on Wednesday: “At no time did Dr. Dugan use her position as the director of DARPA to make any endorsement — explicit or implied.”

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