Former DARPA Chief Broke Ethics Rules, Watchdog Finds

Former DARPA director Regina Dugan. Former DARPA director Regina Dugan. Flickr user nosillacast

Fifteen months after its completion, the Pentagon inspector general on Wednesday released a report that found the former head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency violated ethics laws by endorsing a product she developed while in the private sector.

Regina Dugan, now an executive with Google, ran DARPA from July 2009 to March 2012. Prior to that she founded and served as president and CEO of RedXDefense, which received DARPA funding.

While at RedX, she developed and copyrighted presentation materials for a theory on identifying “bombs, bomb-makers, and bomb-making facilities” as the best way to combat the use of improvised explosive devices that were harming U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, the report said.

“We substantiated the allegation that Dr. Dugan used her position to endorse a product,” the IG stated in a heavily redacted version of the report. “Dugan briefed various senior DoD officials regarding methods for defeating IEDs. In some briefings she used excerpts from ‘the New Method’ presentation she developed at RedX. In other presentations she endorsed the idea of using ‘instrumented’ bomb-detection dogs in ‘novel canine approaches,’” the watchdog found.

Dugan violated the Joint Ethics Regulation, the IG concluded, by using “her position to endorse a product, service, or enterprise, and . . . her actions created the appearance of a violation.”

Dugan disagreed in a December 2012 response to the IG’s initial findings, asserting she had “requested ethics advice from [redacted], followed it exactly, and never made an explicit endorsement.”

Other unspecified allegations against Dugan were not substantiated, the IG stated.

The nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, which has long been critical of the Defense IG for not being aggressive enough in pursuing such ethics violations, was lukewarm about the report -- which was prompted by POGO’s complaint, the group said.

“The case of Regina Dugan shows that the government needs stronger laws and rules to prevent and punish actual or apparent conflicts of interest,” said POGO General Counsel Scott Amey in a statement. “No matter if it’s personal dealings or a competitive advantage obtained when people go through the revolving door, the government is often unable to hold people and companies accountable. The Dugan case basically ended with the DoD IG declaring, 'no harm, no foul.' With the government’s acceptance of such practices and its continued reliance on contractors, we don’t see a decline in these kinds of questionable dealings in the near future.”

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