DISA gets injection of funding for small-business rapid innovation projects

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Small technology companies specializing in cybersecurity will see a significant boost in money for rapid-development projects as a result of nearly $10 million in new funding from the Defense Information Systems Agency.

DISA’s Rapid Innovation Fund (RIF) has acquired $9.7 million from the Defense Department’s Office of Small Business Programs to fund technologies in support of U.S. warfighters.

The RIF team reports to the DISA Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and partners with the DOD Chief Information Officer and the Cyber Directorate. The program receives cybersecurity topics from within the agency and RIF officials review those topics to see which ones fit best with the program.

“RIF is about getting small business capabilities faster into the hands of those who need them,” said Erin Maultsby, a CTO electronics engineer and the DISA RIF coordinator and portfolio manager. “The team works with the Office of Small Business Programs to acquire funding for small business for innovative projects specifically in cybersecurity.”

RIF is looking to solve problems and solve them quickly—proposed projects must be completed within two years. “The technology we select has to be a mature prototype,” Maultsby said. “The goal is that at the end of two years it will be something that is ready to be operationalized.”

The RIF program has already secured just under $10 million in funding from the Office of Small Business Programs since fiscal year 2013 and officials are requesting an additional $9 million for three fiscal 2016 programs.

Dan Cundiff, the overall coordinator for the DOD RIF program, said that DISA’s investments in cyber security, networking technologies, and computing and storage technologies make the agency “uniquely postured” to access the best in class from the U.S. market and make those capabilities available to multiple defense customers.

Cyber areas currently pinpointed by DISA RIF for research are transport layer security, cyber intelligence as a service, and credential misuse detection. Those topics will be included in the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s small-business Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for this year. The BAA will then be posted on FedBizOpps and any small business can reply in the form of a white paper, officials said.

The topics developed within DISA aren’t the only ones in the BAA. The Army, Navy, Air Force and combatant commands also have their own RIF programs.

DISA’s RIF team is being challenged to expand its partner base to work with the services in fiscal 2017 and increase the number of awards to five from three, according to John Mills, DOD CIO cybersecurity division chief.

“The fiscal 2017 RIF initiatives will be structured to that DOD CIO/DISA can focus on several topics of interest to the services, such as better situational awareness, asset visibility, cross-domain solutions and the evolving topic of two-factor authentication and network access,” Mills said.

Maultsby agreed that DISA RIF, established just five years ago, is now well-positioned to expand its portfolio and scope of work.

The Office of Small Business Programs “has a pot of money that is dedicated for rapid innovation,” Maultsby said. “CTO has a great process in place to help us get increasingly more funds each year. Essentially, we are potentially delivering more innovative technology at a significantly lower cost because we’re getting better at the process.”

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