We’re all for family bonding, but in some situations, it just may not be appropriate. Consider the case of Regina Dugan, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). DARPA awarded a contract valued at $400,000 to a company that Dugan and her family founded. Dugan established RedXDefense along with her father and uncle in 2005 and holds over $15,000 of stock in the contractor, according to her Notice of Disqualification.
As indicated by her recusal memo, Dugan has agreed to refrain from issues dealing with RedXDefense for the two-year threshold outlined by ethics requirements set forth by President Obama. However, DARPA’s leading lady balances on an ethical tightrope by holding on to RedXDefense’s stock, given that the company vies for contracts with the agency. Keighan Gabriel, DARPA’s deputy director, insisted to The Hill that, “program and funding decisions ‘never’ reach the level of the director or the deputy director.”
RedXDefense’s contract fulfills a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) outlining a widespread effort to expand the science and technology capabilities of the Department of Defense. The BAA also sets guidelines for the selection of contractors, noting that the government must police conflicts of interest that Program Managers might have. As Danger Room mentions, the document “doesn’t say anything about their bosses undergoing similar scrutiny.”
DARPA’s spokesman Eric Mazzacone did not comment to Danger Room on the selection process for the contract. “He didn’t answer questions about whether the contract was awarded competitively or what the criteria were for giving RedXDefense its $400,000,” write Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman.
While Dugan supposedly had no part in selecting RedXDefense for the contract, as AllGov’s David Wallechinsky writes, “it surely must have come as a pleasant surprise to learn that DARPA’s contract management office had chosen the company she founded to do work for DARPA.”
So is it nepotism or merely a fair dealing between a government agency and what so happens to be the agency director’s former company? We cannot be sure yet, but the facts so far certainly don’t inspire confidence.
Danger Room reports that it has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for more documents related to the issue.
Rhya Ghose is an intern at POGO.
Image by Flickr user Joe Mud, used under Creative Commons License.