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Interview With Mary Lacey, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, Test and Evaluation

Although there has been a series of similar offices and officials in the past, the current post of Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy-Research, Development, Testing and Evaluation (DASN-RDT&E) was created as a result of a 2010 Naval Research Advisory Committee (NRAC) report on the “Status and Future of Naval R&D Enterprise.”

The DASN-RDT&E is the principal advisor and policy coordinator for the Assistant Secretary of the Navy Research, Development & Acquisition on Navy science, technology, advance R&D and system prototype programs, as well as the management of naval science and engineering. That includes coordinating the efforts of senior Navy and Marine Corps labs, program executive offices, program managers and Systems Commands.

Mary Lacey

Winners of the 2012 Department of the Navy’s Test and Evaluation Awards from the Naval Air Systems Command include, from left, Aaron Schoolcraft, Cardy Hughes, George Koebke, Kevin Bauer, Laurie Mora, Mike Wallace, Jared Wood, Lt. Cmdr. Larry Smith, Lt. Chris Weaver, Gary Kessler, Amy Markowich, Richard Garman, Mary Lacey, Bill Smith, and Alicia Conrad. Team members not in photo include Bill Osborne, Matthew Everson, Tim Andryszak, Don Dirkin, Dash Clendenny, Lt. Cmdr. Valerie Van Zummeren, Tom Nelson, Chris Eisele, Marcelo Rosas-Anderson and Curt Schatz. The team earned an honorable mention in the Test and Evaluation Working Integrated Product Team award category. U.S. Navy photo

The DASN-RDT&E also acts as the Navy liaison with industry, academia and both domestic and international R&D agencies and coordinates and advises on RDT&E investments – including Future Naval Capabilities, Advanced Technology Demonstrations, Joint Capability Technology Demonstrations, technology transition/insertion and open architecture – and the evaluation and future of those efforts.

Veteran civilian Navy and federal engineering and technology executive Mary Lacey – who previously served as Technical Director of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Deputy Program Executive for Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense and senior civilian advisor to the Missile Defense Agency Director – was named DASN-RDT&E in response to the NRAC report’s call for “a champion with experience and continuity of vision to shape the technological future of the DoN”.

She recently spoke with Defense Media Network senior writer J.R. Wilson about that future.

Every Administration has consistently assured the nation protects science and technology, especially science.

J.R. Wilson: Overall, how does current and near-term government, industry and academia funding for R&D compare to the past decade? 

Mary Lacey: There was an increase in funding made available after 9/11, but interestingly it was not a significant driver on the R&D side within the Department of the Navy. Much of that was in buying things, and our sailors and ships operating more. So it was sort of, you had what you had, and using and buying more of it, rather than waiting patiently for the timeline of R&D investment. So R&D spending really stayed pretty much stable within the Navy.


And compared to the 1990s?

As a percentage of the budget, there was a decline in the early 1990s. It wasn’t huge, but we did see a decline, then it kind of flattened out.

The funding for the academic portion has remained pretty much unchanged, as a percentage of the budget, for the past 40 years. Every administration has consistently assured the nation protects science and technology, especially science.

RoboSub 2013

An autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) built by students from the University of Florida Machine Intelligence Laboratory navigates an obstacle course at the TRANSDEC Anechoic Pool during RoboSub 2013, San Diego Calif., July 24, 2013. RoboSub is an annual event co-sponsored by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Foundation and the U.S. Office of Naval Research to advance the development of AUVs. Mary Lacey advises on RDT&E investments such as future naval capabilities. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jumar T. Balacy


How important is it for the government to emphasize and support expanded STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] education, from the elementary level through graduate school?

It certainly is something the government can do. Government is a consumer of those STEM graduates, in some cases one of the largest consumers. DoD hires and has more engineers than most companies. The government has taken a role in science and technology, which has many different flavors and characteristics.

 I believe we need to have scientists at our government labs who can take advantage of DARPA-hard investments and tackle really hard issues. But that does not get you to being able to engineer that into a system DoD can buy. So we need people who are smart enough to work with DARPA-hard scientists and translate that.

Locally there is a lot of activity; at a higher level, the Navy Department is investing in STEM to ensure producers of the products we need to consume have access to a workforce with all the education and skills. And it is good for the nation, stimulating the economy in general and, as the economy is strong, increasing what is available from the commercial sector for DoD to consume.

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J.R. Wilson has been a full-time freelance writer, focusing primarily on aerospace, defense and high...