WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and acting Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy agree that the lines of communication between the Pentagon and industry need to be opened up if the U.S. is going to maintain a technological edge.
Both men made their statements Oct. 9 at the annual AUSA conference.
“I’ve lived out in Silicon Valley for the three years that I was retired, and I’ve seen what American industry is capable of from Silicon Valley to Michigan, from Boston to Texas. And we have got to open the communication with them much more robustly,” Mattis said in his opening remarks.
Those comments echoed statements he made in September at the Air Force Association’s conference, a sign that Mattis is serious about wanting to make things easier for those in the department to have frank talks with those outside the infamous five-sided box.
Joking “I love lawyers. I don’t want my daughter to marry one, but I love lawyers,” the secretary emphasized that all relations with industry need to be kept within legal and ethical codes. But in his mind, keeping walls up that are unnecessary will hurt America in the long term.
“I also want to remember that corporations are made up of Americans too, and I want open communications — no favoritism, no violations of law, no violations of ethics,” he said. “But I want no longer this gulf between us to deny us the very advances that American industry is out there and executing for themselves and the private sector, the advances in weaponry that are out there right now.”
McCarthy, who entered the Pentagon after a stint working on the sustainment plan for the F-35 joint strike fighter at Lockheed Martin, echoed those comments to a small group of reporters later that day.
“I just came from there,” McCarthy said of industry. “They’re buying back billions of dollars worth of stock because of a couple factors: They don’t know if you’re going to have funding on time. If intellectual property can be taken from them, then they just made a justification to shareholders that I can’t get the return on investment.”
The reality of science and technology funding means the Pentagon cannot afford to keep industry at arm’s length, McCarthy said, citing figures that the government’s sales and trading investment comes in at less than $100 billion, compared to almost $500 billion in the commercial sector.
“How do you compete with that? I don’t want to compete with that. I want their help. We want you. We need you,” McCarthy said of his message to industry. “We’ll have all the lawyers in there so we don’t get into trouble; we don’t want anybody to put their thumb on the scale, but we need help.
“We want to get the best and brightest of America behind us to help us.”
Unsurprisingly, industry would welcome closer contact with DoD officials. In a Sept. 27 op-ed for Defense News, Aerospace Industries Association head David Melcher praised Mattis’ comments and said industry looks ”forward to many more exchanges of this kind, and [we] applaud Mattis’ leadership in reaching out.”