What government can learn from tech startups

Retired Air Force general advocates more contracting opportunities for tech startups. They offer speedy development skills, a lack of bureaucracy and cutting edge research.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor
The usual path of retired military is as consultants to defense contractors. Brig. Gen. Peter Bonanni took a different path. He used his experience as an F-16 pilot to help video game companies develop flight simulators for military training. He worked to bring that technology back to the Air Force, not always an easy task.

Now he hopes to work to bring some of private tech companies' strengths to the military, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

He developed the Falcon 3.0 simgame for Spectrum HoloByte. During that process he learned that tech isn't done quite the same way in the private sector as it is at the Pentagon.

"I was really stunned by the pace and how fast everything was going there. The development cycle was so much faster. The government sector involves a lot of bureaucracy and paperwork, which of course is needed sometimes, but that can also hinder innovations."

He sees a pressing need for the government to bring startups and entrepreneurs into federal contracting.

"Attitudes from the public sector on these matters have changed over the last two years or so. There's a new generation that is savvier on high-tech now. It feels as if we've been trying to roll a rock up a steep hill and I think we've succeeded," Bonanni said.

That's a win for small tech companies and their fast-moving attitude to development surely helps government but there is an even more pressing reason for government to bring in tech companies - the private sector is where the research is happening.

"The government used to be in the forefront in R&D. It still does a lot of research, but less than before," said Robert Rodriguez, a former special agent with the U.S. Secret Service who ran a Stanford conference last week on how to facilitate contacts between small startups and the government.

"Bureaucracy is the key word. The idea with this forum is to explain how the decision-making process goes. The challenge is often to get through to the right person when you're contacting the government."

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