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Meet Silicon Valley’s newest venture capitalist: The Pentagon

The Pentagon building in Washington, DCThe Pentagon building in Washington, DC
The Pentagon building in Washington, D.C.Photograph by AFP/Getty Images

The Pentagon wants you, Silicon Valley start-ups.

The Defense Department unveiled plans Thursday to invest in and work with upstart technology companies that can help its mission to defend the United States. It will provide a small amount of funding during the one-year pilot program to technology companies working cyber-security.

The military will team up with CIA’s existing Silicon Valley investment arm, In-Q-Tel, as part of the initiative. Established in 1999, In-Q-Tel has been investing in technology companies on behalf of the CIA in the hope of keeping the intelligence agency close to new and potentially significant innovations.

In recent years, the relationship between the technology industry and the government has taken a beating. They’ve repeatedly clashed over surveillance and regulation while, in some cases, simultaneously doing brisk business with each other.

Speaking at Stanford University on Thursday, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said he hopes this new program can help to mend the fences.

“I believe we must renew the trust and repair the bridge between Silicon Valley and the Pentagon,” he said.

The Pentagon plans to set up a new office near Moffett Field in Mountain View, Calif., according to the Wall Street Journal. Earlier this week, the Homeland Security Department also announced plans to open an outpost in Silicon Valley, highlighting just how important the tech industry’s capital has become for the latest in defensive and offensive weaponry, cyber-security and communications.

Carter also announced initiatives aimed at attracting and retaining tech, something government agencies overall have failed to do in the face of the advantages of working in the private sector. It’s hard to compete with well-funded companies that offer free lunches, massages and beer bashes.

One Pentagon goal is to make working for it easier and more flexible. Today’s tech workers, Carter argued, should be able to join the government for a shorter period of time and experiment with working for the agency instead of being intimidated by the idea of potentially being trapped in government service for years. Jobs that are for only the durations of specific projects are one solution.

“They don’t want to join Ford Motor Company and they don’t wanna join a government agency, they want flexibility,” Carter said. “We’re never gonna be able to pay the way that the private sector does, but the mission is compelling,” he later added.

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