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Fundamentally Flawed

Richard Stubbing

Fundable Knowledge: The Marketing of Defense Technology. A. D. Van Nostrand. 241 pp. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997. $22.50.

The Cold War and the fear of Soviet military superiority led to a massive effort by the United States to maintain technical superiority. Defense R&D grew rapidly in the decade after World War II, then exploded following the Soviet launching of Sputnik in October 1957. Adjusted for inflation, federal support of defense R&D doubled between 1949 and 1956, then tripled between 1956 and 1964. In this period the supply of funds far exceeded that of scientists and engineers, and anyone with even a rough proposal to advance technology often received defense support. This situation lasted into the 1970s, when the supply of trained scientists caught up with the demand.

The theme of A. D. Van Nostrand's book doesn't coincide with the semi-chaotic state of funding in the 1950s and '60s. The book argues that defense technology flowed from an ordered process and a detailed paper trail from customer to vendor and then back to the customer with proposed solutions to identified problems. This is but one of many points where the author could have used a reality check.

The author has a gift for prose, and he makes a valiant effort to pierce the veils surrounding the process of acquiring defense technology. For example, the types of defense funding and the key players in the world of defense technology are clearly identified. But the defense technology process operates in a much less structured environment than he suggests.

There are a number of complicating factors. For one, vendors constantly push their new ideas in an informal setting long before anything is put to paper, intending to get the formal Request for Proposal to favor their expertise. This informal network is far more influential than the formal process in many cases. Also, so-called black programs, highly classified projects that operate under their own procedures, have grown substantially in recent years, but they never get mentioned in the book.

More reality checks: The importance of defense spending as a means to create and maintain jobs is not addressed, yet it is a fact of life across the defense community. The author's heavy reliance on the importance of paperwork in transforming technological information to knowledge is also misplaced. He is a great believer in the rhetoric of the written word; in defense, by contrast, informal discussions and technology demonstrations have a much greater impact on the advance of knowledge.

The author targets his audience as members and observers of the defense R&D community. Insiders will dismiss this book as sophomoric; others will be misled into believing that the process is far more orderly than it really is.—Richard A. Stubbing, Public Policy, Duke University

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