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Pentagon makes its Silicon Valley unit permanent

Aerial view of the Pentagon
Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

On Thursday, the Defense Department announced that it’s making the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental — its unit in charge of starting pilot programs with Silicon Valley tech companies — a permanent fixture.

Why it matters: Some tech companies are reckoning with their military relationships, which sometimes raise questions among progressive-leaning tech workforces. That’s not fazing the Pentagon — and that means these controversies are likely to multiply.

What they’re saying: “Since its inception, the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) has generated meaningful outcomes for the Department and is a proven, valuable asset to the DoD,” wrote Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan in a memo. “DIU remains vital to fostering innovation across the Department and transforming the way DoD builds a more lethal force.”

The backstory: A brainchild of then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, the unit was first created in 2015 and rebooted the following year with an additional office in Boston (and later Austin and DC, too), new leadership and reporting structure.

  • Carter said he moved to have the unit report directly to him in part to make it more speedy and agile to better cater to Silicon Valley’s tech culture.

DIUx continued to face some challenges. Even with the changes, some tech entrepreneurs remained frustrated with the slow pace, and a congressional subcommittee wanted more oversight over the unit's spending.

The bigger picture: The unit is only one of a number of defense and intelligence outposts in Silicon Valley aimed at forging relationships with the local industry.

  • The CIA’s venture capital arm, In-Q-Tel, was established in 1999, and to date has invested in dozens of companies, including Keyhole, which was acquired by Google in 2004 and became Google Earth.
  • Also in 2015, the Department of Homeland Security announced it was opening a satellite office in Silicon Valley to be closer to cybersecurity companies and to try to recruit local talent from the private sector.
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