Thursday, April 16, 2009

Fast Funding for Forensics from our friends at the DOD

Ever watch CSI? Bones? NCIS? Cold Case? Probably, as these are some of today's most popular TV shows. What do they have in common? Forensics. Playing detective. Analyzing evidence. Establishing facts. Solving crimes. Prosecuting bad guys. Cool stuff! But what does this have to do with getting money for technology development? According to the DOD -- a lot!

Yes, that’s right. The Department of Defense wants to pay you for being a forensic technologist. They have money to spend on this, and are ready to write the checks. All you need is a good idea and the capability for developing some new techniques for establishing facts in DOD's battlefield environments -- "Battlefield Forensics".

Not only that, but you don't have to write a detailed and lengthy proposal, use a complicated submission web site, nor wait a long time for an answer. Can you say "fast funding"?

Wow! This isn't your typical SBIR project! No submission deadline to meet. Fast response. Pays more right at the start. And they say you won't need special "government accounting compliant" systems either!

Sounds almost too good to be true. But the DOD says it isn't fooling around. Terrorism is the current high priority target. They want good ideas to gather facts to bring terrorists and war criminals to justice. And they want to implement them fast.

The guy in charge of this is Dave Edwards. He works in the DOD's Rapid Reaction Technology Office. I met Dave at the World's Best Technologies Showcase Conference last month, and had a chance to ask him some questions about this new initiative they call the "Open Business Cell"...

Q: What's this all about, Dave?

A: Well Fred, it’s a small pilot program in DOD that seeks to find and engage new or “non-traditional” companies, engineers, innovators, and scientists. We want them to provide their best ideas and build prototypes to help DOD resolve some high priority needs.

Q: How will you do that?

A: Two ways. First we have a helpful website called that identifies the needs. Our current priority need is for Battlefield Forensics. After the best ideas are selected, we will use a funding mechanism called Other Transactions, the government's version of a commercial contract (no special accounting needed), to get people working on these “best” ideas quickly. We will be funding them to rapidly produce functioning prototypes to turn their ideas into reality.

Q: Battlefield Forensics? Is that anything like what we see on CSI?

A: Sorry, but it's not the high-tech laboratory drama you see on television. Battlefield Forensics is the rough and ready business of quickly collecting evidence or indicators of the activities of terrorists and war criminals so we can identify and pursue them. On the battlefield, we may not have the luxury of extended time at the scene, exhaustive coverage of an entire site, or the trained personnel and specialized equipment we need to collect evidence. We need to develop simple and effective equipment and methodologies to gather data and establish facts. So while it's not CSI, it is applied forensic science and engineering.

Q: If I submit an idea, how is it evaluated?

A: When your idea is received it is forwarded to our subject matter experts for analysis. Those who offer really good “on target” ideas will be asked to send in more detailed information about how they would produce their prototype, what it would cost, when it can be delivered, how it will be tested, etc. From among this select handful, the most promising will be funded immediately.

Q: What's a typical project's budget and schedule?

A: There's no set limits. But we expect the funding for a project to be in the $300-500K range for 1-2 years, with a preferred short-term completion schedule. The faster the better.

Q: What about non-disclosure agreements?

A: Not to worry. When you submit an idea using the form at, your idea is protected from disclosure. No competitors will see it and only government personnel will evaluate it. By law, it cannot be disclosed even under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The website has information about this.

Q. OK, I'm ready to submit my idea. How do I do that?

A. Easy. Find the "Submit Your Idea" button on the website. Fill in the web form. That's all it takes. We'll get back to you in less than 30-days.

Q. When will you be posting other areas of interest?

A. Soon. We call them "themes". Subscribe to our ListServ, and we'll let you know when a new theme is posted. Signup is on the website.

This is really cool, Dave. Fast response, not a lot of paperwork, and minimal accounting needed? I hope this works, and serves as a model for other programs to follow.

So, go look at Dave's website ( and see what Battlefield Forensics is all about. (For ideas, do Google searches on the term too.) If you have questions, email Dave at

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