By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, July 10, 2015 – Defense Secretary Ash Carter was in Sun Valley, Idaho, yesterday to attend a meeting of technology business leaders and to pursue, for the Defense Department and the nation, innovation that will take the Pentagon into the future.
During the annual Sun Valley Conference -- hosted since 1983 by private investment firm Allen & Co. -- Carter spoke with CNBC reporter Julia Boorstin about what he called “building bridges between the Pentagon and the tech community.”
Carter called conference attendees the most innovative business leaders in the nation and said he wants the Pentagon to continue to be a very innovative place.
"We have the finest fighting force the world has ever known now," the secretary said. "And I’d [also] like to leave to my successors in the future the finest fighting force.”
In addition to having the best people, maintaining the finest fighting force means having the best technology and embracing innovation, he added, noting that the only way to stay ahead in today’s world is to push the department to change and innovate.
Carter said the best way to work with technology companies is to share the expertise of technologists and other experts as part of a two-way street of collaboration and partnership.
“Many young technologists are excited by the problems we have to solve to protect our people and build a better world,” he said. “What they don’t necessarily want to do is be part of the government for their career.”
To meet this challenge, Carter and his team have created mechanisms by which companies can send their technologists to work in the Pentagon for a time.
Solving Important Problems
For the department, the secretary said, private-sector technologists can “solve an important problem that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives and be proud of, and then go back [to their companies], having learned something from us also.”
Carter added, “If we can build that two-way street we’ll have the best of the tech world available to us in the Department of Defense and we’ll give something back … that experience and the wonderful feeling you get from being part of something that’s bigger than yourself.”
So far the Pentagon has two such programs and there’s another at the White House, Carter said, describing all three.
-- As part of the Secretary of Defense Business Fellows, people in the program can work in the secretary’s office on high-level problems for a couple of years and then return to their companies, he said.
-- The new Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental is a DoD outpost in Silicon Valley that will promote partnerships and help bring innovation to the department, Carter added.
-- President Barack Obama established the U.S. Digital Service to bring technologists into the federal workplace for a time to work on important information technology challenges, he said.
Security and Vitality
The long-term security and vitality of the Defense Department depends on partnerships with industry and -- broadly across the nation -- the education enterprise, including science-technology-engineering-mathematics education.
This and other things “go into making what has been for all of our lives and our generation now the most innovative country in the world,” Carter said.
“We want that to continue so the American dream continues for generations beyond ours," he added. "That’s not a defense mission, but defense ultimately depends upon the success of the American dream."
Carter was on the first stop of a three-day, three-city trip that today took him to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and tomorrow to Charlotte, North Carolina, where he is scheduled to deliver keynote remarks at the 80th Annual Conference of the National Association of Counties. His speech will be streamed live on defense.gov.