Give In-Q-Tel more time, review panel says

Give In-Q-Tel more time, review panel says

An independent panel evaluating the CIA's information technology incubator said that although it is too early to make a final judgment, In-Q-Tel should be given a chance to prove itself.

'We think this is a good program,' Deborah Lee James, chief operating officer of Business Executives for National Security of Washington, said this month at a press conference.

But the BENS report concluded that the CIA has not clearly stated its IT needs to In-Q-Tel and has no clear plans for implementing products developed under its aegis.

'The process for getting technology into the agency needs work,' James said.

In-Q-Tel was created in 1999 as a vehicle for the CIA to fund commercial development of high-tech products needed by the agency. It has a five-year charter.

In its first two years, it has invested about $30 million in about two dozen programs and brought three products to the pilot stage.

Congress mandated an outside review of the program in the fiscal 2000 intelligence authorization bill, and the CIA selected BENS for the job.

'It really is too early, but Congress said, 'Do an assessment,' ' James said. There already have been three other reviews of the incubator: by the CIA inspector general's office, an outside auditing firm and the House Appropriations Committee. This reviewing trend is 'potentially excessive,' said C. Lawrence Meador, chairman of the BENS panel.

'It's on a good track,' he said of In-Q-Tel. 'I think we ought to give it some breathing space. It's going to be two or three years before we are able to make strong judgments.'

Outside investors

In-Q-Tel structures each of its investments differently. It has the option of taking an equity position in companies it supports and can negotiate intellectual property rights with the developers. On average, for each dollar invested by In-Q-Tel, the companies have received an additional $2.15 in outside investment.

Although In-Q-Tel could become self-supporting if products developed with its support become commercially successful, its purpose is to accelerate development of technology needed within the CIA.

James said that any of the three pilots now in place could justify In-Q-Tel's entire $30 million investment if they prove successful.

But getting the products accepted by the CIA is needlessly complicated, the panel found. 'I fully understand the need for security,' Meador said. 'But 130 steps and six separate boards is indicative of a bureaucracy that needs to transform itself.'

He said that although BENS found support for In-Q-Tel at the highest levels of the CIA, there was less support lower down. There was a not-invented-here attitude that resists use of outside technology, Meador said.

'The greatest cultural change needed is three levels down and below,' he said.

The panel made several recommendations:

  • The CIA should more aggressively market In-Q-Tel within the agency.

  • The agency should encourage greater acceptance of outside solutions.

  • The CIA and In-Q-Tel should form an intelligence technology oversight panel that would include top CIA officials.

  • The CIA should develop a plan to direct In-Q-Tel and other IT acquisition processes.

  • The CIA should develop metrics so that In-Q-Tel can evaluate its ability to accelerate technology insertion within the agency.
  • About the Author

    William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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