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Why Are the Best and Brightest Not Flooding DARPA? 597

Posted by samzenpus
from the getting-paid-in-the-private-sector dept.
David W. White writes "Wired mag's Danger Room carried an article today that highlighted how desperate the US Military's DARPA has become in its attempts to bring in additional brain power. The tactics include filmed testimonials, folders and even playing cards all screaming join DARPA! Where are all the Einsteins who want to be on the cutting edge for the Government?"
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Why Are the Best and Brightest Not Flooding DARPA?

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  • Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Aussenseiter (1241842) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @08:13PM (#23847877)
    I assume they're worried that they'll be the tragic victims of mysterious heart attacks.
  • Umm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @08:16PM (#23847905)
    intelligent and well educated people don't want to work for an organization that supports torture and oppression?

    Even ignoring the hyperbole, maybe they don't want to work for a group who's expressed purpose is to kill people.
    • by Louis Savain (65843) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @09:09PM (#23848545) Homepage
      Even ignoring the hyperbole, maybe they don't want to work for a group who's expressed purpose is to kill people.

      This is nonsense, of course. In the past, plenty of highly intelligent people have contributed to warfare and advanced weaponry. Leornardo da Vinci comes to mind. The problem is has to do with what Thomas Kuhn wrote about in "The Structure of Scientific Revolution". DARPA relies on a filtering mechanism that employs academics. Academics are not open to new ideas that may upset their world view. New Einsteins would do just that, disrupt their world view. They therefore tend to avoid organizations like DARPA and prefer to go it alone. Eventually, new paradigms are accepted and science experiences a seismic explosion of creativity. DARPA would do well to encourage disruptive ideas but, given that the old guard is in charge, I am not holding my breath. We might have to wait for them to die off, as Max Planck once suggested.
      • by AuMatar (183847) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @09:40PM (#23848923)
        No, its not nonsense. Noone said all of the best and the brightest refuse to do so, but a non-negligible portion do. I for instance, refuse to take any job that creates weapons, or from a company who's main purpose is to make weapons. I consider it equal to being a murderer.
        • by rtb61 (674572) on Thursday June 19, 2008 @03:59AM (#23851857) Homepage
          That might just be a tad strong but certainly it is some what distasteful to work towards the destruction of humanity rather than working towards the betterment of humanity. While some defence, strong emphasis on defence, related technologies might be ok, unfourtunately the companies involved also tend to work on the most murderous offensive technologies and they have no qualms about exacerbating political tensions around the globe via lobbyists, 'stink' tanks (no misspelling there) for of corrupt pseudo intellectuals (who knew you could get a doctorate in bullshit) and utterly corrupt mass media marketing war and destruction as desirable.

          After all there is a lot of private sector jobs that pay well, provide a good working environment and leave you feeling good about the work you are doing. If you of course prefer to work for the government and contribute to society as a whole (reduced pay but better job security and contributing to the society you are a part of), there is always the medical and education sectors (hey, we might all pick on government workers for fun but it mostly isn't true and mass media has jumped on the bandwagon because it has been paid to by extremely corrupt private corporations, who want to provide you with absolutely no service and charge ten times as much as the government would ever have).

          Perhaps various governments might have to figure out a way to clearly separate defensive, non-aggresive technologies and companies from death at a profit companies, so they can attract better people for defence and as for offence well I'm sure there are enough jock strap wanna be computer drones to pick from, the typing monkeys thing, get enough of them and some sort of code will come out just look at M$ Vista for example ;).

        • Think about it. By NOT working for them you've possibly denied them the breakthrough in weapons researc hthat would have

          A) Created a completly non-lethal but entirely effective weapon with no lasting side effects B) Created a weapon of mass destruction so powerful it would prevent any conflict as long as you are its sole possessor.

          Therefore, you aare responsible for all the deaths that WILL occur resulting from your inaction on weapons reasearch.

          Take this with a cubic meter of salt.
      • by ThousandStars (556222) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @09:53PM (#23849041) Homepage
        In the past, plenty of highly intelligent people have contributed to warfare and advanced weaponry.

        This is a wise observation: for a particularly detailed account of one such person, read Richard Rhodes' Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb [amazon.com]. It prominently features Edward Teller, who was the driving force behind the hydrogen bomb even when many of the other Manhattan project scientists, and most notably Oppenheimer, had lost their zeal for weaponry and their certainty that we are the good guys, as the GP argues.

        Note too that I pitched a theory as to why this is a problem [slashdot.org] in another comment.

      • by mako1138 (837520) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @10:23PM (#23849365)
        Sorry, what do weapons have to do with scientific revolutions?

        Wernher von Braun and J. Robert Oppenheimer would be my examples of weapons scientists, but scientists can be pacifists, too. Joseph Rotblat [pugwash.org] quit the Manhattan project, and later received a Nobel for his efforts to encourage disarmament. Linus Pauling [wikipedia.org] had a change of heart after WWII and spoke out against nuclear testing, among other things. And I think that if you talk to people today, many will express reservations about working for the military-industrial complex.

        Regarding world views, Einstein had the "right" world view for the theories of relativity. However, his world view could not accommodate quantum mechanics. Despite facilitating a paradigm shift in one area of theory, Einstein was unable to accept a different shift in a different area.

        I disagree that "academics are not open to new ideas". The problem these days is that there are very few "disruptive" ideas. There are few new theories worth exploring; we are mostly nailing down the outer reaches of existing ones, and discovering that what we have got works extremely well. Every scientist wants to push the envelope. After all, scientists are rewarded with Nobel prizes for radically shifting our understanding of nature.

        We live in a post-Kuhn era, where the phrase "paradigm shift" is cliché. Scientists are well acquainted with his ideas, whether explicitly or implicitly. The last thing we need is a bunch of people telling us that we're locked into our paradigms, because it's simply not true. When the LHC starts up, everyone is hoping that new physics will be found, because accumulating more data to reinforce existing theories is not terribly exciting.
      • by IdahoEv (195056) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @11:22PM (#23849927) Homepage

        Yes, but the perceived moral superiority of one's state has a lot to do with people's willingness to support it. I would most happily have applied my talents to supporting US military technology efforts during WWII or even the cold war, when the US really did appear to be under existential threat.

        But in today's world, it looks to many of us more like our government has been picking wars they wanted to have and seeking justification afterwards ... even changing the justifications [about.com] when old ones become obsolute. They use sleazy legal loopholes ("Guantanamo is outside the US, and therefore does not qualify for us legal jurisdiction") to barely meet the letter of the law while grossly violating the spirit of international treaties that specify how moral nations ought to behave. And so I can't feel justified in supporting that effort technologically.

        Recent US military antics have leveraged the population's fear of from an attack that killed 3000 people to initiate a war with an unrelated country that has now resulted in the death of nearly a million people ... far more, per year, than ever died under the "horrible" dictator previously mismanaging said country.

        I know there are people who feel differently than I about these events - but many also feel the same or similarly. I am no pacifist, but I feel like my current government uses kindergarten logic internationally in ways that cost millions of human lives.

        That alone is plenty to keep me out of DARPA, and I suspect it is for many others as well.

        If there were a real external threat, I'd be supporting my nation's efforts to fight it as would any other good patriot. Right now, the greatest threat is from within.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rm999 (775449)
      It's not just moral objections, there are two other reasons I can think of that explain why smart people aren't going into any sort of government defense job:
      1. It doesn't pay as well as private organizations. Likewise, it's often not a meritocracy. I worked for a defense contractor, and I found that incompetence was rampant.
      2. Most graduate level engineers/scientists cannot obtain a security clearance because they are not citizens. This puts an automatic cap on any defense related career.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by quanticle (843097)

        Also, don't forget the coolness factor. During the cold war the military invested significant sums into basic research. Therefore the most advanced computers and electronics were often found in a military setting. Now, the military doesn't fund basic research to nearly the same extent, and, as a result, one is equally likely to find advanced technology in a private setting.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Maxo-Texas (864189)
      Nah.

      There are plenty of intelligent, well educated people that would be fine with that.

      More likely it's

      1 low pay (but not so much)
      2 lots of bureaucracy (sooo sooo much... the bain of smart people and the joy of stupid people or controlling people)
      3 stupid micro-managing managers (see 2)

      ---

      Back after WWII, the government paid "okay" but gave you money and freedom to produce results.

      You *could not* produce the space program today in 9 years. The bureaucratic overhead would smother it (it smothers the current
  • by Dachannien (617929) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @08:18PM (#23847937)
    Yes, it's a government job, and the government gives pretty good benefits, but why work as a civil servant when you could get a higher-paying job in private industry doing work under contract for DARPA?

    • by TubeSteak (669689) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @08:43PM (#23848241) Journal

      but why work as a civil servant when you could get a higher-paying job in private industry doing work under contract for DARPA?
      From lowest salary to highest
      military --> civil servant --> private sector --> consultant

      As for why you'd work as a civil servant... it's really hard to get fired?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Not only does DARPA not pay very well, compared to the private sector, the jobs are located in the Washington D.C. area. DC is expensive, the commute is hellish, the summers are hot and muggy and the area is very conservative. I spent 4 years working for the government in DC before I fled to California.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @08:19PM (#23847943)
    What the government does is terrorism to me.
  • by WindowlessView (703773) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @08:19PM (#23847949)

    Where are all the Einsteins who want to be on the cutting edge for the Government?

    We have a government that for 8 years has tried to outsource as many of its functions as possible to private firms that pay much better than the government itself. Geez, let me guess where smart people are hiding...

    • It's not just the last 8 years. DARPA has long used external corporations to do research and development on projects while providing the management and funding.

      ARPANET (which, as you likely knew, grew into the series of tubes we know today as the Internet) was built to connect DARPA sites, and was conceived and originally built by BBN (still one of the major DARPA contractors). One of the first sites connected to ARPANET was SRI, which is still pretty big in the DARPA contracting world.

      It's not new.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by thegameiam (671961)
      To be fair, "reinventing government" which basically translates to "hire contractors to do what government employees used to do" was a significant policy program of then Vice-President Al Gore. This approach has certainly continued under the current administration, and it may be causing a problem in this area, but it isn't just a Republican problem.
  • Because... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @08:22PM (#23847985)
    ... "all the Einsteins" would do things like implement proper backing up of e-mails at the Whitehouse. Need I say more?
  • Likely Reasons (Score:5, Insightful)

    by weston (16146) * <.gro.lartnecnnac. .ta. .dsnotsew.> on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @08:23PM (#23847989) Homepage
    1) It's getting harder to believe we're the good guys.

    2) The increasing view of government agencies as mismanaged and incapable (and the fact that we somewhat consistently elect candidates that loudly proclaim this outcome as immutable and inevitable), and public sector/military work as a refuge for the bureaucratic and dull.

    3) Business politics are marginally easier to put up with than ideological politics and graft.

    4) The private sector pays as well or better, and you probably don't have to relocate.

    4a) Fewer of the best and brightest don't choose technology/research, because it's quite clear our society values lawyers and management more.

    • Re:Likely Reasons (Score:5, Insightful)

      by linzeal (197905) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @08:49PM (#23848287) Homepage Journal
      I am just an engineer and I would never work for a government that destroys another country just to rebuild it. They need to bring back assassinations and stop killing civilians to change forms of government.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Grishnakh (216268)
      4) The private sector pays as well or better, and you probably don't have to relocate.

      This is a good point: to work at DARPA, wouldn't you have to relocate to the Washington, DC area? That place is a complete dump! You couldn't pay me enough to live in that hellhole. Maybe the government should try getting away from this idea that all Federal government stuff must absolutely be located in the DC area, and try locating in more desirable places, and then maybe they'd have more job applicants.
  • by l0ungeb0y (442022) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @08:23PM (#23847995) Homepage Journal
    Who wouldn't be tripping over themselves trying to get a job with low pay, be saddled bureaucracy, receive no public recognition, have to pass periodic drug, credit and background checks for security clearance, get crappy benefits and with no stock options.

    Sounds like a dream job.
  • by computerman413 (1122419) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @08:25PM (#23848005)
    How about a music video with lyrics such as "APRAD nioj"?
  • by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @08:25PM (#23848011) Homepage

    Where are all the Einsteins who want to be on the cutting edge for the Government?"

    Well, of course, DARPA doesn't do research. DARPA manages contracts with other organizations that do research.

    The Einsteins most likely want to be in the organizations that actually do the research.

  • by SpaFF (18764) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @08:27PM (#23848041) Homepage
    As someone who works as a government contractor, my guess is it is because government bureaucracy stifles innovation. Most smart minds would rather work in academia where they get more freedoms, less restrictions, and are more easily able to surround themselves with likeminded individuals.
  • Because.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by plasmacutter (901737) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @08:28PM (#23848049)
    - The government is obviously corrupt

    - The government is obviously corrupt and working hand in hand with organizations out to destroy the internet.

    - The government is obviously corrupt and working hard to make it easier for these same organizations to engage in a domestic terrorism campaign via lawsuits.
    • Troll? Maybe. But... (Score:5, Informative)

      by GradiusCVK (1017360) <originalcvk.gmail@com> on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @09:10PM (#23848559)
      Is the parent really a troll? Well, let's try something new... let's evaluate his claims, one at a time, logically and without any bias against his overall position on the issue.

      The government is obviously corrupt
      Well this must be false, it's been proven time [wikipedia.org] and again [washingtonpost.com] that our government is beyond corruption.

      The government is obviously corrupt and working hand in hand with organizations out to destroy the internet.
      It's quite obvious to even the most cynical of observers that there is [wikipedia.org] absolutely [wikipedia.org] no [wikipedia.org] collusion [wikipedia.org] between the government [riaa.org] and any [mpaa.org] organization [riaa.com] that might be seen as antagonistic to the foundational [eff.org] principles [eff.org] of [eff.org] the [eff.org] internet [eff.org].

      The government is obviously corrupt and working hard to make it easier for these same organizations to engage in a domestic terrorism campaign via lawsuits.
      Well here the OP just get silly, I mean come on, a campaign of terrorism via lawsuits? That would imply scaring people into following an organization's agenda [riaa.org] by scare tactics, such as unlimited, unprovoked, irrational, abusive lawsuits and illegal legislation. That's just ludicrous.
      You guys are right, OP is a troll.
  • Bad Karma (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mbrod (19122) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @08:28PM (#23848055) Homepage Journal
    Many scientists have wised up to the fact their fun invention today maybe burning the skin off some poor kid tomorrow.

    While they didn't do the actual killing, they do have other options available to them.
  • by Dr.Pete (1021137) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @08:31PM (#23848083) Journal
    As far as I can tell, from the article, it's DARPA lacking program managers that is the issue. A DARPA program manager allocates money, directs research within a program and decides if a particular group in the program is performing up to scratch. Sure, you have to be pretty well up on the state of the art in a fairly broad range of areas to succeed in doing this but, at the end of the day, you aren't actually doing any research. Working for DARPA is the scientific equivalent of middle management. Who gets into research to do that? This impression is gathered from the giant sample set of one DARPA program manager I've have the pleasure of working with, so I may have a skewed view on the whole operation.
    • by Octorian (14086) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @09:03PM (#23848473) Homepage
      This is what most people here simply don't know about DoD/Gov't employment. The people who work for the gov't in that world aren't doing interesting technical work. They're managing projects at a high level, sifting through requirements, sitting in meetings, and setting up contracts.

      Oh, and they've also taken lots of excruciatingly boring courses on understanding this process [dau.mil]. (ok, DARPA gets an exemption from that, but everyone else doesn't)

      Whenever you hear about a cool new DARPA/DoD project, its not the DARPA/DoD folks who are actually doing the cool work. Its non-gov't people working for some company the gov't has a contract with that actually have all the fun.
  • by davidgay (569650) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @08:33PM (#23848115)
    Well everything I hear says that (in CS at least) DARPA drastically cut their academic research funding. Is it then any surprise that research-minded people ignore DARPA?
  • maybe (Score:4, Informative)

    by niloroth (462586) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @08:36PM (#23848159) Homepage
    Maybe, just maybe, people are a little put off by the current administration's habit of censoring and twisting science to it's own political stances. You can only abuse science and technology so long before the people who do the science and create the technology start to seriously resent you. Maybe we will see a change after this election, i don't know. But i hope we do.
  • by Arrogant-Bastard (141720) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @08:39PM (#23848205)
    Word has gotten out that DARPA is run by political appointees selected for their blind loyalty to the present administration, not for their intelligence and expertise. The best and brightest are of course aware of this, and few of them relish the prospect of working for a pack of first-class morons who report up a chain of command which terminates in someone far too stupid to deserve the compliment "moron". It's possible that this will change once President Obama takes office and does some serious house-cleaning, although frankly, any institution so badly mismanaged for so many years can't be put right quickly no matter how competent and sustained the effort. It's a pity that this has been allowed to happen -- or rather, that this has been deliberately made to happen -- but that philosophical note aside, the practical impact is that anyone choosing to work for DARPA at the moment really needs a full psychiatric evaluation with particular emphasis on latent self-destructive tendencies.
  • by nuzak (959558) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @08:41PM (#23848225) Journal
    Here's a free one: DARPA gives grants. Unless you want to be a grant administrator, chances are you don't really want to work for DARPA.

    A little, um, research into DARPA would have uncovered that insight.
  • by rlwhite (219604) <rogerwh@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @08:41PM (#23848227)
    No one with real expertise wants to be stuck in a bureaucratic agency, shuffling the papers and attending meetings at least 6 hours a day. I've been a low-level engineer in one of the military's RDT&E agencies (not DARPA), and everyone there who has ever had any technical skill complains of skill atrophy, boredom, and endless unproductive bureaucracy. I was very lucky to get out while I could. One of the high-level managers there had been known to say that their strategy was to bring in the best and brightest technical minds they could and keep them 3-4 years until their skills had atrophied to the point that no one else would hire them.

    If the government wants to succeed here, they absolutely have to throw out all the rulebooks and start over. I've been in project groups that tried to do true engineering work within the government, and it was a resource management nightmare. It would take months to order most anything. Everytime I tried to do something, I always needed something I didn't have and couldn't get for a long time. What we have now is simply an exercise in getting people paychecks. This is the real government welfare system.
  • I'll tell you why (Score:5, Interesting)

    by giminy (94188) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @08:42PM (#23848235) Homepage Journal
    I spent two years of my life post-graduate school working at DoD research laboratories, and can say with some experience why Geeks should not join DARPA (or any government research lab). It can be summed up in one word: "research."

    Government labs no longer do the stuff for the most part. There are still some pockets left, but they are few and far between, and shrinking. I graduated with a MS in computer science, with a two-year focus on computer security. I was offered a job in a research team with with a DoD lab and eagerly took it. But it wasn't research. It was contract management. Essentially, I got to read research proposals from companies, and decide whether or not those companies would be funded for their ideas. My ability to influence the actual research of the companies was quite limited. I was able to come up with 'calls for proposals,' that is, statements of new topics that we'd like proposals on from companies. By the time these ideas were raped^Wvetted by the various program and contract managers, the descriptions were so incredibly vague that the proposals received in response to the call were completely off-topic. I got frustrated very early on and left.

    In my exit interview, I asked my supervisor to define research. His definition was adequate. I then asked him if that's what we did. He stammered a bit, and ultimately conceded that we, "facilitated research." We had a very interesting discussion. Due to research project overruns throughout the 80s, particularly with software projects, as well as the end of the Cold War, the Congress changed the focus of DoD research programs. New funding rules dictate that research projects are placed under contract. In this way, if a company is paid to do research and development on a project, and it fails to deliver, the government has some recourse. If actual government employees received funding and failed, there would not be much that congress could do to them (Congress could slash the non-salary portions of the failed project's budget, but that's not very intimidating to the employees when you think about it).

    The place where the 'cool' stuff happens these days is by the contractors. If you want to work on ARPA and DARPA quality work, start a small business and start winning on SBIR awards. I wouldn't recommend actually working for DARPA or a government research lab, though, unless you really want to be a contract manager and not be very hands-on with technology and ideas.
    • Re:I'll tell you why (Score:5, Interesting)

      by giminy (94188) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @09:04PM (#23848489) Homepage Journal
      I thought my original message was perhaps too harsh and didn't offer any ideas on solution. So I decided to write a reply to myself.

      I'd like to emphasize that there are some great people that work in DARPA and the various other research labs. I was definitely fortunate to work with or at least meet with the people that I did during my time in DoD. Quite a few people are technical and smart, and can see some big problems that we're facing. That is an incredibly good thing. I think that, from a human resources angle, the research labs are facing a legitimate problem though: they need people with technical expertise and passion to do a job that does not utilize that technical expertise and passion in a very glamorous way. It is downright demeaning to a lot of people with advanced degrees in a subject to do a job that doesn't involve actually doing the stuff that they studied, but instead watching other people do that stuff (and often doing it wrong!).

      It is incredibly hard for DARPA and other agencies to spin the job in the right way to smart people. My point is that they're going about this whole 'selling the job' thing wrong -- they should try to change the job a bit to make it more technical in order to get people interested. Maybe they (the Congress) could require government contractors to accept the government-employed contract manager into their fold as a department head, paid for by the government. It could certainly be an interesting experiment that might yield a good outcome (which, I daresay, would be research worth funding).
  • Two words: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @08:44PM (#23848253)
    Security Clearance.

    We're rejecting and canning people because of even the most minor and often ancient of unrelated and innocuous financial transgressions and social relations -- even for the most insignificant of positions in government, contractors and even subcontractors thereof.

    It's asinine. There are senators and congressmen with worse records and credit than contractors denied clearance to mop their floors.

    The process is so intrusive and debasing that many people take one look at the paperwork and simply walk away.
  • by Ucklak (755284) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @08:52PM (#23848337)
    I witnessed a state come up with a way to provide free college education to all residents.
    The stipulations were
    A) Had to be a resident when graduating high school
    B) Had to be an instate college
    C) Had to have a B average and maintain it through college

    When the enacting governor left office, the replacement governor promised college for all students.
    The result was grade inflation where the D average inner city kid got that magical B average
    and because of affirmative action, the D average kids got head of the line admission to the universities over the real B and A achievers.

    We see animosity from the educational unions over the home and private schooled kids because their results are better and it's the unions that say that the results aren't fair.

    Political correctness got rid of the best and brightest.
  • by gatkinso (15975) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @08:55PM (#23848373)
    Most of the R&D under DARPA's watch is farmed out to the big 5 American defense contractors: NG, Raytheon, LockMart, BAE, Boeing, as well as think tanks like Mitre, Rand, Battelle.

    Maybe at one time DARPA was something more, but thinking back to ARPANet... that was all contractors and contracted academia as well. BBN, MIT Lincoln, Mitre all immediately pop in mind.

    (And yes, I am aware BAE Systems is a subsidiary of BAE plc. With the SSA and totally separate financials, it is in all but name an American company... and soon will be totall US in fact as well. Meerkat Salute!

  • Oh really ? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Phiu-x (513322) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @09:03PM (#23848475)
    "They too are after you !?!"

    "Here take a beer, and let me talk to you about when I was approached to work for the NSA"

    "Why shouldn't I work for the N.S.A.? That's a tough one, but I'll take a shot. Say I'm working at N.S.A. Somebody puts a code on my desk, something nobody else can break. Maybe I take a shot at it and maybe I break it. And I'm real happy with myself, 'cause I did my job well. But maybe that code was the location of some rebel army in North Africa or the Middle East. Once they have that location, they bomb the village where the rebels were hiding and fifteen hundred people I never met, never had no problem with, get killed. Now the politicians are sayin', "Oh, send in the Marines to secure the area" 'cause they don't give a shit. It won't be their kid over there, gettin' shot. Just like it wasn't them when their number got called, 'cause they were pullin' a tour in the National Guard. It'll be some kid from Southie takin' shrapnel in the ass. And he comes back to find that the plant he used to work at got exported to the country he just got back from. And the guy who put the shrapnel in his ass got his old job, 'cause he'll work for fifteen cents a day and no bathroom breaks. Meanwhile, he realizes the only reason he was over there in the first place was so we could install a government that would sell us oil at a good price. And, of course, the oil companies used the skirmish over there to scare up domestic oil prices. A cute little ancillary benefit for them, but it ain't helping my buddy at two-fifty a gallon. And they're takin' their sweet time bringin' the oil back, of course, and maybe even took the liberty of hiring an alcoholic skipper who likes to drink martinis and fuckin' play slalom with the icebergs, and it ain't too long 'til he hits one, spills the oil and kills all the sea life in the North Atlantic. So now my buddy's out of work and he can't afford to drive, so he's got to walk to the fuckin' job interviews, which sucks 'cause the shrapnel in his ass is givin' him chronic hemorrhoids. And meanwhile he's starvin', 'cause every time he tries to get a bite to eat, the only blue plate special they're servin' is North Atlantic scrod with Quaker State. So what did I think? I'm holdin' out for somethin' better. I figure fuck it, while I'm at it why not just shoot my buddy, take his job, give it to his sworn enemy, hike up gas prices, bomb a village, club a baby seal, hit the hash pipe and join the National Guard? I could be elected president."

    So fuck NSA and fuck DARPA! Now where are my sheeps ?"
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @09:04PM (#23848495)
    As a young professor at a top CS program, I can give a simple reason CS interest in DARPA has waned: because DARPA funding as waned, both in the amount of available grant money and the attractiveness of the terms.

    While NSF grants have little oversight, require few deliverables, and have 3-4 year terms, DARPA grants increasingly have 1.5-2 year horizons, require regular reports and site visits, and have go/no-go mid-term decisions. Furthermore, DARPA projects increasingly want deliverables and seek classification. Thus, while NSF still allows you to engage in more blue-sky, high-risk research, DARPA is interested in advanced development. Not quite the thing academics and grad students signed up for. No surprise most DARPA funding has switched from universities to contractors.

    Most academics I know would love to return to the DARPA gravy-train of pre-Tony Tether days; the funding terms and dollar amounts just aren't there currently.

    This CRA post summarized it well:

        http://www.cra.org/govaffairs/blog/archives/000624.html [cra.org]

  • Are you kidding? (Score:5, Informative)

    by thermowax (179226) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @09:05PM (#23848509)
    As a veteran of several Federal institutions, both as a contractor and a Fed, I can tell you that there are a multitude of reasons why the government has a hard time getting people:

    1. The hiring process for Federal employees sucks. It is byzantine and SLOW. One of the more progressive agencies was able to bring me on in a couple of months, but another took a YEAR. The average is somewhere in the middle. I had reasons to wait at the time (had to see what was behind that big NSA fence) but why would anyone wait under normal circumstances when contractors/the private sector moves so much more quickly?
    2. The pay sucks. The GS scheme tops out at around $120K right now. There are grades that pay more (SES) but without going into detail, good luck with that. Anyone with solid experience in security/enterprise IP engineering/etc can smoke that as a contractor or in the private sector.
    3. The atmosphere sucks. The government may be trying to change, but everything you've ever heard about the stereotypical gov't employee is generally true. Some agencies are better than others, but at most the fat guy with the polyester leisure suit lives on.
    4. The positive reinforcement sucks. Managers have little ability to give raises or promotions. In some agencies, spot awards are used, but most still view them as evil.
    5. The benefits suck. Is there any other employer in this day and age that doesn't have maternity leave? The rest (medical, 401(k)) are par. The pension is nice, if you stick around long enough to qualify.
    6. The culture sucks. No matter how much they try to change, years of hiring the sub-par have infused the gov't with a culture of sluggish bureaucracy. This will take decades to undo. Also, this is precisely the kind of environment that will drive a decent technical person raving mad in short order.

    Noone who [knows|can do] better would ever work for the Federal Government.
    • I work for the DOC and our pay scale tops out at 149k. You can work plenty of overtime, so you have gs 5-9's hitting the 149k ceiling and we have comp time which is great if you like to travel. The govt also pays for law school and just about any other education you want. We have a quota, so the more hours you work of comptime/ot your quota increases.

      You need to work 5 years to get a pension (1% of your salary per year for your three year high, i think you can collect it when you turn 62).

      You get plenty of
  • by Khelder (34398) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @09:29PM (#23848797)
    It's true that DARPA is part of the DoD, but the research it has sponsored in the past has given benefits far beyond the military. Examples of things it's sponsored include:
      * Networking (the Internet)
      * Graphics
      * Timesharing systems
      * VLSI
      * RISC
      * RAID
      * Parallel and high-performance computing

    As for not wanting to work there, it's like other comments have said: DARPA program managers don't *do* research, they manage people who do (and really it's more like: they manage people like professors and company project managers, and *those* people manage the students and scientists who actually *do* the research). People get PhDs for different reasons, of those who got one to do research, few of them want to be that far removed from actually doing it.
  • Who'd have thought (Score:3, Insightful)

    by beamin (23709) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @09:41PM (#23848947)
    that an administration that aggressively fights and denounces science would suppress scientists' interest in public service?
  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @11:44PM (#23850137) Homepage

    A DARPA "program manager" is often what Government procurement people call a "Contracting Officer's Technical Representative". This is someone who knows what the project is about, technically, and goes out to check on progress. Back at HQ, you write reports, go to meetings concerning what projects ought to go forward, and look at incoming proposals. You get to see a lot, and have some influence over research, but don't really do much yourself. The problem is finding people smart enough to do the job, willing to work for the Government not actually doing technical work, senior enough to tell companies and professors what to do, yet not has-beens.

    Although many academics are unhappy with DARPA under Dr. Tony Tether, I think he's done good work. Academic robotics needed a serious butt-kick. DARPA had been putting money into robot vehicles since 1969 without getting anything usable. Tether dreamed up the DARPA Grand Challenge to light a fire under academic researchers. Early on, the big-name schools didn't want to field entries. It was quietly made clear to them that the gravy train was over - if they couldn't compete, they weren't getting further funding in robotics. Entire academic departments were devoted to that problem, and it got results. More recently, Boston Dynamics' "Big Dog" robot has been demoed. Again, this was something far better than anything from decades of academic work. I can't speak for work outside robotics, but DARPA really has succeeded in forcing robotics groups to produce.

  • by Mongoose Disciple (722373) on Wednesday June 18, 2008 @11:50PM (#23850175)
    A lot of people don't want to work for DARPA because it means living in or around Arlington, Virginia. (Source: http://www.darpa.gov/hrd/ [darpa.gov] )

    My friends aren't there. My family isn't there. It would take a shit ton of money for me to be able to financially justify relocating there, which would involve my wife needing to quit her job to come with, as well as needing to sell my house in a shitty market for selling houses.

    Sorry, but if you have only one location and you want the best and the brightest, you have to be willing to offer stupid amounts of money to make sure it's financially viable for all the best and the brightest. I think it'd be cool as hell to work on a lot of the projects I've seen come out of DARPA, but not enough to enter poverty (and more, to ask my family to enter poverty) to do it.
  • Several reasons: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ledow (319597) on Thursday June 19, 2008 @09:08AM (#23854309) Homepage
    Not being American, I probably wouldn't qualify anyway, but here's my guess:

    1) The first letter in DARPA stands for "defense"

    Most serious scientists want to create and explore, not destroy. Does NASA have problems hiring? THAT would be news. Actually they probably do have problems, as does anyone trying to get "real" scientists these days. I'd actually expect DARPA to be the last place to "dry up" because it won't get an enormous percentage of otherwise-eligible scientists apply.

    2) Money.

    Government agencies tend not to pay anywhere near market rates and if they do, they certainly don't keep up with those rates after a few years.

    3)

    I'm afraid this item is classified information and you may never, ever discuss it with anyone, ever.

    4) Freedom.

    Work for the government for a pittance to develop something that will then be claimed as a government invention, or work for a serious research place where you will get some credit and be able to discuss your ideas with others (that is, basically, what science is all about). You'll be able to research just about anything you want, in all kinds of esoteric fields, rather than being forced back to "make me something that'll kill more people", for instance. You'll (hopefully) be able to do it without a massive committee of people with their own agenda pushing you into areas you have little interest in.

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