The Pentagon’s original hoodie-wearing digital guru, Chris Lynch, is leaving the department.
In the four years since former Defense Secretary Ash Carter tapped Lynch to stand up the Defense Digital Service, or DDS, Lynch became an iconoclast as well as a sort of ambassador of the Silicon Valley ethos of rapid experimentation. Frequently seen at the defense secretary’s right hand, he was known for his frank and colorful language, casual attire, and an impatience with the pace of government acquisition and reform embodied in his catch phrase: “Get shit done.”
Brett Goldstein, who advises the Navy on issues related to cybersecurity and previously has served as chief data officer for the city of Chicago, will take over at the end of the month.
Carter originally tasked Lynch to set up DDS and help bring Silicon Valley talent into the Defense Department and bridge a perceived culture gap with the civilian technology industry. “DOD doesn’t have many effective ways to harness promising technologies they come up with,” he said at the time. “We need to fix that. I don’t want us to lose out on an innovative idea or capability we need because the Pentagon bureaucracy was too slow to fund something, or we weren’t amenable to working with as many startups as we could be.”
DDS soon set up a series of hacking contests to crowdsource the discovery of vulnerabilities in some public-facing Defense Department websites. Since launching the “Hack the Pentagon” program, (with its sequels, Hack the Marines, Hack the Army, and Hack the Air Force,) the program has led to the discovery of more than 10,000 vulnerabilities, according to DDS.
“When I first showed up everyone thought I was the IT Support Desk wearing a t-shirt, hoodie, and jeans. At this point I’ve served under three Secretaries of Defense. I have to admit… I didn’t see that coming. Through each transition, our teams continued to gain new supporters and to take on even more critical projects that change and save lives,” Lynch said in a letter sent to DDS team members Monday night.
One of those projects: DDS has played a key role in helping draft the Defense Department’s requirements for the massive JEDI cloud, to help move the Pentagon toward a modern cloud architecture capable of supporting, among other things, next-generation artificial intelligence programs.
The potentially $10 billion contract for the JEDI program attracted fierce competition — and complaints that it’s unique size and security requirements were written in a way to unfairly favor just one or two of the largest companies.
The fight became so ugly that at one point a private detective company was shopping around a shadowy dossier to Washington D.C. reporters to suggest improprieties in the contracting process, including that a senior aide to former Defense Secretary James Mattis had used her position to rig the game for Amazon, which had been a client of her consulting firm prior to her Pentagon employment. The Pentagon found nothing in it, as did an independent investigation by Defense One and Nextgov.
Late last year, Oracle sued the Defense Department claiming that a former Amazon employee named Deap Ubhi, who came to work at DDS, had unfairly influenced the contract. The Defense Department conducted an internal investigation and again found nothing to the accusation. A judge last week lifted the stay on the competition, and the JEDI program is on track to announce an award no earlier than July 19.The two contenders for the contract remain Amazon and Microsoft.
“DDS will continue to drive JEDI forward today as we have since the start to better protect the young men and women who keep us safe,” Lynch said in his letter.
The service also worked to overhaul the Defense Department logistics system related to moving personnel and their families. And it has led efforts to build new drone detection and GPS technologies.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan had high words for Lynch and his contributions to the Defense Department. “Although we will miss Chris, the unique startup culture he built and the talented team he recruited will continue to disrupt and transform technology at the DOD,” he said in a statement. “We are excited for Brett [Goldstein] to be taking on the role of director to build and expand the team and its work. His public and private sector knowledge, technical expertise, and commitment to improving government through technology will be invaluable to a range of critical missions across the department.”
Goldstein served as the Chief Data Officer in the City of Chicago and became the city’s Chief Information Officer. He’s the co-founder of the venture capital firm Ekistic Ventures.