I learned this week from DARPA public relations officer Jan Walker that Tony Tether, the agency’s director, will remain in charge when Obama takes office as President. “Dr. Tether will be here after Jan. 20, and there’s no formal date on which he plans to leave,” Walker told me in an email.
In my past conversations with Tether, he’s made it clear that he didn’t expect his directorship to survive the changing of the presidential administration, no matter what party the new president belonged to (Tether’s a G. W. Bush appointee and a Republican).
A new president generally boots everyone from the old administration, but Obama’s doing things his own way, also keeping Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, on the job, along with a lot of other top Pentagon officials.
Tether is DARPA’s longest-serving director, in office since 2001. Most DARPA directors have stayed in only two or three years, and the agency’s program managers typically serve terms of three to six years, a trend Tether cites as one of the agency’s strengths. The people running the agency’s programs get in to get their pet projects done, and then get kicked out before they have a chance to get entrenched in the bureaucracy and start worrying more about their jobs than the groundbreaking research and development they manage.
“You know,” Tether told me, “I used to always say that the greatest thing about DARPA is that no one’s been there long enough to screw up up. Unfortunately, I’ve been here so long there are people who have said to me, ‘Hey, you remember when you said that, Tether? Well, you know, aren’t you getting close to that time?’”
It also might be a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”