DOD looks to bring on next DIU head for up to six-year term

By Briana Reilly / July 15, 2022 at 4:53 PM

The next leader of the Pentagon's Defense Innovation Unit could helm the outfit for up to six years, according to a highly publicized job listing shared this week.

Posted on the under secretary of defense for research and engineering office’s website and amplified in a press release today, the notice seeks to find a successor to outgoing Director Michael Brown, who is poised to exit DIU on Sept. 2 after serving as the head of the organization since fall 2018. DIU’s mission is to identify and leverage promising new technologies for the U.S. military.

Brown’s departure coincides with the end of his second two-year stint as a “highly qualified expert,” which was previously re-upped in 2020, though he was also offered a one-year extension into 2023. According to the job listing, DIU’s new leader would see a term appointment of five years but could be eligible for a sixth year in the role.

DOD spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Tim Gorman explained the duration is the “maximum length” officials can offer candidates for the post and “is dictated by the office.” But he said the hire could seek a shorter term. The notice doesn’t explicitly state the new leader would be an HQE, which could signal an attempt to expand the candidate pool or hiring authorities officials would use in the search.

The listing itself seeks applicants "with expertise in technology commercialization and the broader innovation ecosystem” drawn from private sector experience, and stresses the incoming director “will focus on improving practices, process and effectiveness in the delivery and transition of state-of-the-art commercial technology solutions to the DOD.”

It also calls for backgrounds in management, project development and creativity in problem solving, as well as familiarity with government processes for developing and fielding technologies.

“Ideally, [the] Director of DIU will have past success leading in a government setting,” the posting states. “This expertise will prepare them to navigate current and/or develop new paths to acquisition and transition of innovative technologies into sustainable programs in support of emerging or long-term DOD needs."

Brown, DIU’s longest-serving leader thus far, is slated to step down at a time where some in Congress have questioned top military officials’ commitment to organization. Specifically, Heidi Shyu, the Pentagon’s chief technology officer, drew fire in recent months for not acting to scale up investments more quickly in the small-budget unit.

For her part, Shyu, who oversees DIU, said during a May hearing before the House Armed Services Committee’s cyber panel that she backs the unit “100%,” and has promised a bolstered budget in fiscal year 2024, after seeking $89.4 million for the unit in the administration’s most recent spending request -- a sum House authorizers want to boost to $157.4 million. The House passed its version of the defense policy bill Thursday.

In that same hearing, Shyu told lawmakers that she had been willing to extend Brown’s tenure by another year, but her “preference is to have somebody else in there that can span the duration of my term in bridging to the next administration.” Meanwhile, she noted that Mike Madsen, DIU’s deputy, is staying on for an extra year to help bridge any gaps in the hiring and onboarding process.

Shyu in the DOD press release announcing the job posting today praised Brown’s “tremendous impact on technology adoption and development these past four years.”

“Under his tenure, barriers to entry for commercial companies have been lowered and numerous key technologies have been deployed to the warfighter,” she added. “I am sure that wherever he next goes, he will be very successful. Our new director will certainly have very large shoes to fill.”

Brown was previously tapped by President Biden to serve as the Pentagon’s acquisition chief, but the nomination was derailed by an ongoing DOD inspector general investigation amid allegations that he ignored federal hiring regulations and misused contracting authorities while managing DIU. He has denied all wrongdoing.

The deadline to submit applications for the DIU director role is Aug. 12.