You can’t keep a good woman down.
You remember Solyndra. It was the solar panel company that went bankrupt, after having had its loans guaranteed by the Obama Administration. It got lots of publicity.
This story ought to get lots of publicity, too. A woman who was connected to this failed venture now runs the DARPA program. DARPA is part of the Department of Defense. It spends lots of money on high-technology products.
I have no doubt that the lady is very smart. She knows technology. Solyndra did, too. It just did not understand how to make a profit. But it surely knew how to milk the federal government.
Arati Prabhakar will soon run the Pentagon’s most important research agency. She comes on board on July 30.
In 2001, she joined the venture capital firm U.S. Venture Partners. Venture Partners specialized in green technology. It backed Solydra. That venture blew up. It blew up spectacularly. It became the poster child of green technology blow-ups.
She is well qualified academically. But this is a classic case of a revolving door. Washington spends lots of money. Private industry wants to get its hands on this money. So, people who are connected with the U.S. government get hired by private industry.
Hers is a typical case. She founded Darpa’s Microelectronics Technology Office. “In 1993, at the age of 34, she was appointed as the head of the 3,000-person National Institute of Standards and Technology. From there, she left for Silicon Valley, where she became a top officer at a specialty materials company.” Now she will run DARPA.
Round and round it goes. Where it stops . . . wait. It never stops.
Darpa spreads its approximately $3 billion annual budget among hundreds of start-ups, government contractors, and academic researchers, all of whom are looking for government grants. With so many grants spread among so many people, the potential for improper dealings is ever-present. It’s crucial that the Darpa director be seen as beyond reproach.
That’s what got the last Darpa chief, Regina Dugan, in trouble. Her family firm, RedXDefense, won $400,000 in contracts from Darpa while Dugan was director — and while the company owed her a quarter of a million dollars. That spurred a wide-ranging inquiry from the Pentagon’s inspector general into how Darpa awards its contracts.
The system rewards access: who you know. Access is worth a lot of money. This is why there is a revolving door.