Recommendations from the 21st Century Science, Technology, and Innovation Strategy

Published: June 22, 2016

DEFENSEInnovationPolicy and LegislationResearch and Development

A new strategy document released by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) seeks to advance federal agency investments in scientific R&D for national security.

Back in May the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released a document called “A 21st Century Science, Technology, and Innovation Strategy for America’s National Security.” Formulated by the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Committee on Homeland and National Security, in coordination with the OSTP, the “21st Century Strategy” puts forward a number of proposals for strengthening the national security of the United States. These proposals cover a variety of topics related to managing the risk connected with investing in and deploying emerging technologies. Whether or not the administration that follows will continue the direction set out in the “21st Century Strategy” is an open question. However, some of the recommendations are logical extensions of current trends, so understanding them could prove useful. Here are some of the recommendations in the strategy that could prove valuable for industry to know.

Infrastructure Modernization

After noting that some of the scientific infrastructure of the federal government requires modernization, the 21st Century Strategy argues that “modern scientific infrastructure is needed to explore complex topics, gather data for computational models, and test hypotheses in the pursuit of scientific discovery.” Funding for this infrastructure should be set aside to invest in a systematic “build and execute a strategic approach” for renewing existing facilities and for developing new facilities that will be needed in the future. Multiple agencies using the same resources are advised to share the cost of these infrastructure investments through cooperative and interagency agreements.

Takeaway – Sharing scientific research resources is a theme consistent with the National Strategic Computing Initiative. The NSCI provides more detailed proposals and a $1.6B proposed budget for FY 2017 related to investment in big data analytics and high performance computing alone. Vendors positioned to support R&D work, as well as those providing analysis expertise and training services should find some opportunity at agencies involved in the NSCI enterprise. Hardware vendors could also see a bump in spending on required infrastructure. 

Agile and Effective Governance

The 21st Century Strategy argues that the “policies and practices used to manage science and technology procurement and performance must be modernized and streamlined.” To that end it recommends that agencies “encourage field activities to take the fullest advantage of agile personnel and innovative contracting authorities that have been granted by Congress.” Presumably, these authorities would include initiatives like the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) and “Other Transaction Authority (OTA),” which Congress granted to the DoD to encourage prototyping before procuring in the FY 2015 NDAA.

Takeaway – Neither DIUx nor OTA are likely to benefit established industry partners in tangible fashion. The DIUx is intended to bring non-traditional businesses into the Defense ecosystem so their advanced technologies can be leveraged and OTA applies to small purchases for a specific part of a solution, like a hardware component or software capability. For what it’s worth, in the FY 2017 NDAA Congress is also proposing limiting the obligation of funds for the DIUx until the Secretary of Defense provides clearer “guidance, oversight, and coordination [of the DIUx] with … various laboratories, engineering centers, and existing state and local innovation centers” already doing business with DoD.


The 21st Century Strategy encourages agencies to embrace “modern innovation tools for problem-solving and acquisition,” including working with foreign research centers and socializing the fruits of advancements developed by federally-funded research centers and government ventures like the Intelligence Community’s In-Q-Tel IQT). Concerning the acquisition side of things, the Strategy urges use of “non-traditional granting and contracting mechanisms—such as Other Transactions Authority, incentive prizes, advance market commitments, challenge-based acquisition, and agile approaches to software development and information system procurement—increase the speed, quality, diversity, and number of performers contributing to government missions.”

Takeaway – The call to use OTA is discussed above, so no need to recount it here. Fostering the advancement of FFRDCs and government-commercial ventures is noteworthy, but problematic for industry because the development dollars spent with ventures like IQT don’t always flow into the coffers of vendors competing on the open market. Finally, the desire to leverage foreign laboratories and research centers is admirable but also fraught with legal and national security hurdles that may be too high to overcome.