About the DOD
The US Department of Defense functions differently than most other federal agencies, as success relies on developing and vetting proposal ideas with Program Officers, rather than simply responding to a solicitation. Below are some resources to help guide you as you begin the relationship-building process with DOD program officers.
Preparing to make first contact with Program Officer
A useful thing to do on "first contact" is to send the Program Officer (PO) a “research menu.”
Essentially, a research menu is a 1-2 page document describing 3-4 research ideas. Each idea is a paragraph or two and highlights a well-defined scientific question that you have an interest in answering.
A graphic is fine if it’s illustrative, but please keep to 2 pages so that it can be reviewed reasonably quickly. As you can imagine, POs get a lot of emails every week from researchers such as yourself.
Thorough answers to the following questions will likely be required in a white paper, so as you formulate the short descriptions, keep them in the back of your mind.
- Is it basic research?
- What's the scientific question(s)?
- Why is it a hard question?
- Why you? Why now? (What's the novelty of your skills/abilities/approach/etc. that makes you think you can get in the vicinity of an answer?)
- So what? (Why does it matter to the scientific community?)
- Where's the risk?
- What will it take?
Please don't belabor the background or motivation. Assume the PO has sufficient knowledge of his/her field and about the needs of the service for which they work (Army, Navy, Air Force). If the PO has questions, follow-up is easy.
This “menu” does two things for the PO:
- The PO can quickly get a sense of the scope of your interests and where they might overlap with programmatic priorities. Make sure that at least one of your ideas is something other than the topic areas listed on the website/in the BAA.
- POs are scientists and engineers and enjoy being surprised by things we don’t know about.
- Also, if you have an idea that’s scientifically risky, include that too! If the PO has an interest, then a whitepaper on the topic of choice will be encouraged.
- Refer to the specific organization’s open BAA for basic research to make sure that the ideas you present are more or less on target to capture the PO’s interest.
- For those ideas that don’t find financial support, at least now the PO is aware of them and can promote them to others within the DoD science and technology community who might find them interesting. Scientific match-making is among the top duties of DoD POs, but they can’t promote you to others if they don’t know about the new ideas you have. Though POs may scan the literature, that will only tell them about what has been done, not about the bold new ideas you want to do.