The Defense Acquisitions Research Collaboration & Innovation Environment (DARCIE) aims to establish a foundation for digital acquisition innovation through the development of a data science environment. This environment is designed to facilitate collaboration across academia and industry, and provide researchers access to the collection of academic excellence required to extract value from acquisition data. The aim of the pilot is to create a shared data platform with tools that will drive innovation through the acquisition community, protect sensitive information, accelerate decision making, and support timely delivery of effective capabilities to our warfighters. 

Principal Investigator and AIRC Chief Scientist Dr. Philip Antón, as well as Co-Principal Investigators Drs. Laura Freeman (Virginia Tech) and Maegen Nix (Virginia Tech Applied Research Corp.) reported on the DARCIE pilot at the 2022 Annual Research Review. Supported by a large research team, the pilot is based on four foundational elements: an innovative data-enabled acquisition strategy, secure access to controlled unclassified information, analytic AI enabled tools, and shared data for multi-organizational collaborations. The DARCIE environment will help move DoD organizations such as the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) toward recognizing and using its data as a strategic asset for innovation in areas beyond acquisition. 

DARCIE is distinguished from other initiatives by its efforts to enable collaboration and partnership with non-traditional academia and industry DoD research partners. Barriers that prevent acquisition data access traditionally limit colleges and universities from conducting substantive analysis and providing support in other defense areas. The research team is investigating how effective data access and data storage can facilitate collaborations across otherwise siloed services and functions, and how it can support data driven decision making related to acquisition. The DARCIE team is also conducting research into data privacy to address stakeholder concerns, as authorized researchers with access to DoD acquisition data can derive insights and perform innovative analyses that have wide-reaching benefits. 

When discussing the present state of DARCIE at the 2022 Annual Research Review, Dr. Freeman noted, “The initial push focused on enabling non-traditional engagements with teams of academics, industry, the FFRDC community, and the government partner in one environment. Adjustments are being made to DARCIE to address not only the environment but how do we enable current research and privacy protection in that environment.” 

At present, DARCIE runs in a remote desktop environment hosted by Virginia Tech’s Office of Export Security and Research Compliance (OESRC) and supports access to Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI). Data science tools—such as Python, R Studio, low code dataflow, Conda package management and Docker containers—are available to users. DARCIE also offers support for advanced analytic techniques, such as machine learning (ML) and differential privacy. Current data sources are structured in a hub-and-spoke format in which the Hub data source is the SAM databank and supports thinking about how different types of data sets link to acquisition programs.

When presenting on the pilot, Dr. Nix stated that DARCIE provides an opportunity from which to move forward on the Department’s data strategy, providing incentives for data sharing, partnership, and increased interoperability. “This is an opportunity to establish a digital environment with centralized data. It’s a place where multiple researchers can do independent analyses with privacy and the potential to develop toolsets for automation, reporting, analyzing data more quickly and effectively, and sharing.” Dr. Nix noted that the research team is working to identify strategic levers that can eliminate barriers toward these goals.

Looking ahead, Dr. Freeman expressed the hope for DARCIE to be a “build once and used by all” capability that supports users across the network as they work to solve their difficult challenges. Additional future goals include a possible CUI compliant Data Grand Prix, development of AI and ML methods, and continued efforts to develop and operationalize data privacy methods—all toward the shared goal of timely delivery of effective capabilities to the warfighter.

Click here to view presentations from the 2022 Annual Research Review.