Building The Base

In this episode of Building the Base Laruen Bedula and Hondo Geurts chat with, former Chief Information Officer of the Air Force, Lauren Knausenberger. Lauren shares her journey from the private sector to government service and her experiences in driving innovation and collaboration between the tech industry and the Department of Defense (DOD). She emphasized the importance of partnerships between the government and private sector, highlighting historical examples like GPS and the internet that originated from DOD research. Knausenberger stressed the need for a cohesive strategy, shared market awareness, and strong relationships between startups and the government. She also highlighted the challenges of navigating the bureaucratic processes and cultural differences, emphasizing the significance of persistence and differentiation in gaining government contracts. Reflecting on her time in government, she recognized the progress made in understanding technology but emphasized the need for continued efforts to bridge the gap between tech and the DOD.

Key Takeaways: 
  1. Cross-Pollination Between Sectors: The importance of collaboration between the private sector and government, leveraging each other's strengths and innovations.

  2. Challenges in Government Partnership: Overcoming cultural and perception barriers between the tech community and the government, addressing issues of trust and collaboration.

  3. Government Procurement Dynamics: Understanding that the government buys solutions, not just technology, emphasizing the need for integrated solutions rather than isolated technologies.

  4. Building Relationships: The significance of building relationships and understanding the needs of the government agencies, emphasizing the role of hustle, persistence, and a compelling pitch in establishing these connections.

  5. Evolving Government Engagement: The changing landscape of government engagement, including the role of venture communities, industry events, and platforms like AF Works, highlighting the need for adaptability and innovation in engaging with government agencies.

What is Building The Base?

"Building the Base" - an in-depth series of conversations with top entrepreneurs and leaders from tech, financial, industrial, and public sectors.

Our special guests are weighing in on a broad selection of topics such as: shaping our future national security industrial base, leadership in challenging times, experiences related to the intersection of business and national security, and personal anecdotes related to their positions of influence.

Building the base is hosted by our own BENS member Lauren Bedula who is the Managing Director and National Security Technology Practice Lead at Beacon Global Strategies, and BENS Distinguished Fellow, Jim "Hondo" Geurts who retired from performing the duties of the Under Secretary of the Navy and former Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development & Acquisition.

Lauren Bedula 09:18
Welcome back to building the base. Lauren Bedula here with Hondo, Geurts. And today's guests Lauren Knausenberger. Lauren, we are so excited to have you here on the heels of just leaving the Air Force where you served as Chief Information Officer and have a great reputation for driving innovation and disruptive tech. So very excited to get into that today. But also, just your Bedula 09:18 story, Lauren Howe prior to joining the Air Force, he spent time in the private sector, you are an entrepreneur, you are a venture capitalist. So, you have seen both the private sector, the government work and now you are back out. So, Lauren, thank you so much for joining us today.

Lauren Knausenberger 09:53
Awesome. It is so great to be here. And you know, it is awesome that we are doing this in person to like it is still feels great to be able to do this together. Great to see you only six weeks after having a baby. Thank you. And always great to see Hondo and I love that you got your great Big Gulp cult cup ready to go. You know, just ready to roll in here. But it is so special to be here with you guys today. So yeah, I guess I do have a different kind of story coming into the government. And it is really happened by accident. I think that is the best way to say it. One day, just an Air Force captain that worked with my husband years before I called him up and just said, hey, we need we need more companies like my wives in government. Can I have your wife's number because I really want to take her out for a beer. And so, my husband thought it was hilarious. And I did give him my number. And we went down to bluejacket brewery, which is still one of my favorite places to have a beer in the Navy Yard. And literally on a bar napkin drew out what ended up becoming a good part of the innovation framework for the Department of the Air Force. I did not know this. At the time, I was just having a beer with a captain. It was a great energizing discussion. He had heard a speech by then CIO, Lieutenant General Bill Bender, who is now retired. And he was he just was inspired to do something. And he just he just wanted to talk and bounce ideas. And as he was sharing problems with me, I was getting so excited about the problem space. And I realized as I was chatting with him and chatting with some others along the way that I missed the mission, and that I was excited to help in any way that I could. And so that conversation led to that bar napkin becoming a PowerPoint presentation for Monday morning. He had to brief general Crider, who at that point was working for General Holmes, who later became the ACC commander and John Crider became the first chief data officer and then the first Chief Technology and Innovation Officer for the Space Force. So went and briefed her after the initial briefing by the captain met general Holmes, and then it all came back to General vendor. And I still did not see service in any way in my future. I was enjoying my entrepreneurial life; I was enjoying helping small companies. But one day, Gerald Bender called me down to the Pentagon for a very mysterious meeting and kind of hit me through the heart when he said one thing, he said, when you talk about these things, I believe that we can do them. And I was just like, oh, my God, you know, I had never met a general in my life. And here I am at the Pentagon. And this general says this to me. And even then, I was thinking this is totally not my path. But I was so humbled that I said, I will really give this some thought. And the funny thing is that I chatted with a bunch of my mentors. And this is not a slight to the Navy, I had a navy grandpa love the Navy. But most of my advisors and friends would then, kind of laugh when I first said I wanted to go do a transformational effort in the DOD. And then they then kind of pause for a minute say, well, which service and then when I said Air Force, you got a snowball's chance, you know. So, yeah, so I ended up jumping in and I realized that, that I did miss the mission. And I almost, I almost got to the point, you know, internally where I was just like, you know what, you are a hypocrite, you are a complete hypocrite, if you do not get in here and do what you can to solve these problems that have bothered you from several vantage points in your career. And so, I jumped in, I had such an incredible time, those couple of years, just meeting amazing people doing great things, empowering people getting things done. And then I thought it was going to run off maybe after a year or two, and then kind of jumped into the CIO job. And, you know, six, seven years later, finally, finally did sail off into the sunset as they say,

Hondo Geurts 14:06
Well, it is great to see you here, Lauren, and be with the two Lauren's here. So those will be easy will be you will remember names well. But I want to back up the bus a little bit. So well tell our listeners a little bit about what you were doing and kind of where you grew up and what you were doing before this kind of seminal meeting and then we will well get to our life and crime in the in the Pentagon and Trail of Tears here. But what was happening before that what Where did you get started? What, what got you in the tech community and what led up to that kind of seminal meeting with John bender?

Lauren Knausenberger 14:41
Oh, sure. Well, if we go way back, which is I think maybe where you are pushing us. So, I was a I was a 17-year-old kid with a top-secret security clearance working at the NSA. Incredible job for a 17-year-old and got to do a lot of interesting things. Some of it had to do with, you know, back in the day InfoSec, you know, we did not really talk about cyber, you know, kind of late 90s? Do I sound old school when I say that? A little bit?

Hondo Geurts 15:17
And how would you get to? How did NSA find you and get you there as a 17-year-old?

Lauren Knausenberger 15:23
So, I believe at the time, NSA had kind of statewide and especially neighboring counties recruiting effort, where they were looking at test scores from high school students. And I believe that is how it happened. Because I was, I was a local kid, I all public school in Prince George's County. And I was going to I went to Roosevelt High School right over and Greenbelt. And so, I think that I think they had an eye on that science and tech program a little bit at the time. And so actually, one of my, at least one of my friends from the school also did the internship program with me over at NSA, and geeky fact so that friends and I, we did some research, reverse engineering integrated circuits. It was a fighter, a fighter plane use case. And we took that research to the International Science Fair. So, case that was, so that was kind of neat. That was kind of my first time hitting, you know, fighter jets were reverse engineering integrated circuits that had come out of fighter jets.

Hondo Geurts 16:26
So, then you go to NSA..

Lauren Knausenberger 16:29
So went to NSA had a grand old time, graduated high school, went to college, did not think I would do anything and get remote again. You know, I did, I did do an internship. Actually. You know what, I take that back, one of my first internships in college was with a company called answer. Right, right there and Rosalind I remember calling the Air Force the blue people. And we were talking about the blue people walk out Oliver Roslyn, and was working for I was doing a project on satellite trajectory for Santa Fe Q. I had not thought about this in years. And then, as a bartender for summer, that was fantastic. There were a couple of different things in Oh, I have configured satellites, when summer. So, I did all sorts of things kind of at the periphery. And then when I graduated from college, I went to work for a company called American management systems. And it is kind of funny how many people from AMS I am running into now. But then ended kind of back on the mission side, CGI purchased AMS, and I was going to go to CGI, but my clearance came back through because someone figured out Oh, yeah, you had a clearance back in the day, let us get you back in there. So whenever to cacao. And, got pulled into CIA, by, you know, there was a case officer, you know, I say, wandering the halls, probably looking for someone who is had a cheap enough bill rate to throw into this project that they did not know what it was. And so, I went over to CIA for this very mysterious project. And that ended up being my first transformational project, working with the government working with a defense contractor. And, really, that that was the first agile implementation for CIA. And it also had just interesting worldwide implications. And then went and did another program transformation, went back to corporate, got to manage a lot of the finance and technology business for a defense contractor. And then kind of went the other way, again, you know, went to Wharton Business School, did some investing, help start a few companies started a company. And then I got that mysterious call that kind of pulled everything back full circle, where it could come in and serve. But I think that at that time coming into serve, it had been so helpful that I had kind of gone the other way. And, and in many ways, I think that is very healthy. I think I have heard you talk about that Hondo, and, and will Roper and many others, about how we hope that there is a bit of a revolving door. And I think that the perspective is invaluable. And I loved it. So yeah, so we will see. We will see what happens next.

Lauren Bedula 19:12
That is something we talk a lot about on our show just the importance of cross pollination between the private sector and government. And I think your story exemplifies that in such a great way. And something, Lauren, that you were so clear about through action, as you where CIO with the Air Force was your interest in trying to bring in the high-tech sector, and startups and nontraditional players to do business with DOD. Can you talk a little bit about why you see that as so important?

Lauren Knausenberger 19:38
Yeah. So, it is, it has always been so important. And I think that I think we've it has, we have had forgotten about that occasionally, over the past couple of decades. But, I mean, you go back to World War Two, and it was interchangeable. You know, I look at a lot of the most exciting technology that we use today. A lot of it started in the DOD. And then the private sector did something amazing with it. GPS. You know, DOD developed it for nukes spend billions of dollars, but I can order a pizza, I can be like, hey, honey, are you on your way home? Oh, yes. Well, they were you still in the office? But that has never happened. Right, Sherman? Yeah, totally. You know, people can make sure their kids are safe. You know, in order an Uber is started with DOD tech, but with commercial making a gazillion use cases out of it. The class for our iPhones, the internet. And, I did not know this until recently, but, so DARPA, we all know, DARPA, you know, kind of started that has the internet. I did not realize that DARPA had done the foundational technology for cloud computing 50 years before we had AWS rollout the global cloud. So, I think it is so important that you have the intense research and mission and investment of government, tied to the commercial industry, driving all sorts of innovation that goes beyond that. And I know that one thing that you hear a lot in government. And it is true, it is Hey, Silicon Valley moves so much faster than us. A lot of that I would posit, and this is why also small businesses are so important. And startups are so important. A lot of startups can leverage that foundation, you have the cloud, you have software, you can laser focus on solving one problem. And you have to laser focus on solving that one problem. That is how you are going to raise capital. That is how you are going to test and take over a new market. And that intense focus is something that I think startups do well. And they are incentivized in exactly the right way. But they can ride on that foundation that came before them without all the they are debt that is characteristic of that and in large organizations. And so, I think if we can continue to move forward with that beautiful balance, I think good things happen. And I think the government recognizes this, I think we all know this, we look at different ways to make it work, and for the incentives to align. And there are some places where we do a really great job. And there are some places where we have some room to go.

Hondo Geurts 22:16
So, you and I spent a lot of time in the Pentagon together, trying to help our Pentagon achieve kind of outcomes, some of that through changing culture. And, and one of the things I really liked about you is you were always trying to change the discussion from No, because to yes, if, and so, what is your perspective, having spent time there? You know, many of the folks we talked to claim, you know, constraints from Congress or constraints from law or constraints, it was all about why you could not do something versus why you could How do your perspective change kind of over your time at the Pentagon? And, and what can other leaders still in the Pentagon take from that kind of your experience?

Lauren Knausenberger 23:00
So, if I, if I look at that whole problem space, what I will say is that, before I dove into it, I saw a lot of policy and regulatory issues. As I dove into it, I saw Congress just exasperated, you know, just the staffer saying for the love of God, just tell us what to do. You know, tell us what you need in the NDAA, to make sure that you have nothing in your way that is within our control. And so, I will toss this back at you in a minute. Because you know, you are both solid acquisition experts here on whether you agree with me on kind of the policy and regulatory issue not necessarily being a barrier. I do see, I do not know if I would even call it culture. There are some elements of culture. But I think that in the way that culture is what you repeatedly do. I think that in some ways, we are too fragmented and the way that we make decisions about small businesses. And because of that, we are good at starting small businesses. We are not great at the transition, there are a couple of groups that are good at good picking winners and pulling them through. I do not think the PEOs are engaged as engaged as they should be, potentially, and it is not their fault. I mean, it is just the way that we have designed the system. But I think if we can find a way to get the PEOs more engaged in scaling for the things that they truly need, that that is something that that I think would be very helpful. But ultimately, it is hard to have a very fragmented system where there are gaps in training for what true differentiation is. And there is also varying degrees of the applicability of the tech. You know, if you have a billion-dollar addressable market with your tech, that's kind of that's kind of an easy decision to kind of to move forward. If you have a place where you can use that tech exactly one time that it is only in that PEO. Then that PEO is probably the only one that can make Have that decision. And you must figure out how to compensate the company, for bringing that bespoke tech to that use case or think through whether there is a broader way to apply that technology or that use case than that one little place. But we all must take a step then above the PEO, and really work toward a more a more cohesive, well communicated strategy that ties together those incentives and that spend to get there. And that is hard in organizations the size that we have in the military, with folks that rotate a lot and who are not trained to make decisions that way. But I would love to throw it back at you, or at either of you. Because I mean, this is this is your wheelhouse.

Hondo Geurts 25:41
Yeah, I think. And we have had a couple of guests before talk about for an organization to transform, it has got to get to kind of a base level of competence. And without that competence, it is your it has, you have champions, but not any scaling, kind of momentum to go behind it. And so, I do think one of the challenges to scaling the department is get the overall competence and infrastructure to the point that allows you to scale. And I do not know, if he had the same experience, kind of leading transformation in the private sector versus in the government, the size is so big to scale. It can be daunting, but I do agree with you. It is do not a vision and habits. It is there we placed most of the obstacles in front of us are shelves, and then they are reinforced by our habits. And then we go forward, go forward with that. But no, I think what you and your counterparts Aaron in the army did was really try and level up the competence to even know the questions or ask in the, in the they are infrastructure we need to put in place. What is your sense is that if you look back on your accomplishments, would that be one of them of raising the overall organizational competence to a level to start going after these things?

Lauren Knausenberger 27:05
So, I do not know, I do not know what percentage of credit I can give to any one entity on that. But I will say that over the past six years that I have had the pleasure of serving in the military, the level of understanding and competence has risen significantly. And I think that one thing that that we can say is that we have been able to better provide platforms for people to do their jobs. And that means that people can start innovating at a higher level, they do not have to reinvent the thing that we could just buy. I mean, they still do honestly, in some places, but on a lot of the big enterprise solutions, they work well. And they enable a different level of speed and collaboration. And so that is a very good thing.

Lauren Bedula 27:50
It is great to hear your experience in dealing with the hill and your take on the policy and authorities that you had to leverage. Can you talk about any hurdles that you face that we can learn from for strengthen collaboration between tech and DOD?

Lauren Knausenberger 28:06
Yeah, I think I think that, that is the biggest hurdle that I see is a little bit cultural. And, I want to, I want to kind of back up about 10 seconds for a moment and share that on the cultural side of moving technology through a really appreciated general Browns recent letter that doubled down on look, if you think that there is a policy in place, we are not even bother changing it now. Just go use common sense. We, you were there to lead, go. Because one thing I did see is that people were people love to follow the policies they love to, to follow anything that was written in front of them that gave them guidance, it was part of their ethos almost. And so, for him to say, all right, when that does not make sense, you know, figure out what does go because people's I think some people had been unhindered by that for a long time. But some people still were. And so, I thought that was That was so good. Moving forward, culturally, with the DOD and the commercial world. I personally see those worlds as so intertwined. I mean, just we, we have global allied partnerships, we have partnerships with so much of just the tech community around the country. And we already talked earlier about how that that government red piece adds a foundation to so many different things, whether people know it or not. But I think that we do sometimes have an idea in some places of our social dialogue that, you know, the military is bad. And so, you know, I look at Google several years ago, and so we had the, you know, we had a project that, you know, was all over the headlines at the time that you know, that Google had to kind of back away from Because folks inside Google, were saying we are not comfortable working with the Department of Defense. They have now come back to hey, we see this is an important partnership for us. With SpaceX. I know that biography, you know, just came out and kind of had Elon Musk taking a little heat the last couple of days, turning off Starlin, in the middle of some things that Ukrainians were trying to do. And so, they also learned from that on both sides, and developed Star Shield as something that is independently operated by whoever is purchasing it. And then I saw recently to there was an open-source con conference that Andrew was sponsoring. And then even though I mean, Andrew, has been open about being a defense related startup, you know, bleeding red, white, and blue, I mean, global, global, red, white, and blue democracy. And, you know, week before the event, the open-source lead of the conference said, hey, get out of here, Andrew, because, you know, because you your defense related, and I think that it is just very short sighted. And it only takes a moment to look, I mean, honestly, the Russia Ukraine situation, I feel like should be putting things in perspective for people that maybe have forgotten that the world is not always as peaceful as we would like it to be. And that you must have these capabilities ready, and that you must have people ready to defend. And you must have people ready to help our allies. And I think that we forget that sometimes. And when we forget that we do things like say, I do not want to partner with the DOD. I think the DOD also sees those mistakes. Well, I will call them mistakes and time and says, oh, well, I do not know if I can partner with commercial interest, can I can I trust commercial industry to have my interests at heart. And, you know, that is, that's a, that is a lifecycle thing. Now, if you look at that is our traditional defense, industrial base, those are the folks that that the government has relied on consistently over time, that will come in and absolutely develop that capability for that one use case, and make no bones about it. And you know, does remember, and so the government sees that and says, okay, this is what we need, and we do. But we also need the company that is going to develop this technology with such great focus, bringing in everything, including the open-source community. And I mean, quite frankly, who is not using open-source code that that you can even name in a tech in a tech company. And so, I think on both sides, there is a lot of learning to be done there. I think that we have made some good progress, but the headlines seem to shift sentiment. And I think if you know if we can get to kind of consistency in what is important and kind of that, that code of ethics, I think we will be in a good place. Easier said than done? Of course.

Hondo Geurts 33:08
So, I was where I was going to get to what would what would you recommend, if you are now Geurts 33:08 you are out, you will probably be talking to a lot of startups, again of who may want to do work with the government? What would be your kind of first, you know, what is your next Minimal Viable step? And then what is should be the next step or two, if you are in government, you are either not sure, or you want to, like, what is the first step both sides could take to help one get a level of understanding, which then can lead to understanding where there is some trust and, and opportunities.

Lauren Knausenberger 33:44
I would say first, that I advise more companies to not enter government than I advise them to enter government. And a lot of people have an idea that going into government will be easy. They will just have contracts handed to them, and they will make millions of dollars. And it will just be it will be awesome. And it is not that easy. I think that there are a couple types of companies that do well, with maybe fewer roadblocks. Companies that truly want to do interesting research with a lot of risk. The government is good at sponsoring this companies. And I think the cyber program is a perfect place to good de risk and idea. The other type of company that does well is a company that good knows the government really knows the use case and can dive in and just have that customer empathy from day one. Maybe because they were special operator and they know that mission, maybe because they were space guy and they know that mission and they know exactly what capability they want to bring. And they can bring the tech around them but they good kind of are the user centered design just embodied. Those types of companies can do well. You have had a couple of companies and this is kind of a new breed. Andrew is one of them, where you have some folks that they believe grow Lately in Michigan, and they are patient capital, and they have no problem throwing a good amount of venture dollars at a defense startup, it is it has been rare, it has been more common recently. But I think that is kind of another place where you have a lot of people behind you supporting you, you have the capital, that allows you to rapidly develop capabilities without kind of being on a government buy cycle, which I think we can acknowledge is slower than the sales cycle in the commercial world. But I think that, you know, that's kind of who does well, I think, also that people see the ones that do well, and say, Oh, well, I'll get a saber, and then it'll be great, I'll get a phase one, it'll go to phase two, it'll go to phase three, it'll be awesome, I'll find all, once I get in the door, I'll find exactly where my use case is. And sadly, that is more than often not true. It is not too hard to get a phase one, it is very hard to get a phase two, you must find that customer, they must have the capital, they must understand how you are different from the other guy, they must have that competence to do that. And a direct competence in the technologies involved, which maybe they have never used before, as well as that mission application and how that compares with probably other companies, they have never heard of maybe even including some established companies. And so, it becomes hard. And I do see a couple players on the capital side filling in, there are a couple of funds that I can think of that do a really good job of picking some of those winners, capitalizing them, and helping coach them through entering government. And I think that is an incredibly healthy part of the ecosystem, too. I probably miss part of this question.

Hondo Geurts 36:42
Oh, no, it is good. I mean, we have told her I mean, I think a challenge is the government buys a solution that does not buy technology. And so sometimes you can have a great technology. But the government rarely invest just in a technology, it has got to be use. But what would you say on the government side? So, you are a program manager, you want to talk to the startup community, you want to understand who else is out there, besides the prime contractor that the office is used for 10 years? What would be? How would you advise them to kind of start getting up to speed and understand they aren't they make sure they understand the full decision space?

Lauren Knausenberger 37:21
Yeah, so I want to back up a second to something you said a moment ago about the government buy solutions, we do not buy technology. So, in a server program, we do buy technology. But then we pivot as we need to, as we need a greater integrated solution. And I do remember a CIO telling companies that the number one thing that they could do for me, is work together to bring the best technology together into an integrated solution. And I do see that as a huge opportunity for the integrators and I am seeing them do it more, which is healthy. So, so I think you are right. And I think if people understand that, yes, that is how we buy at any, at any level of real spend at scaling, spin, scaling spend. Right, exactly. But in the beginning, I guess we kind of maybe invest in technology, but we do not scale necessarily the technology.

Lauren Knausenberger 38:16
Exactly. And I think it takes the companies a minute to realize that. But it is important thing to realize, I do think that I will tell you a couple of trends that I appreciate. I enjoy that PEOs and senior executives and sometimes just the tech community writ large, they are engaging with the venture community, because the venture community really is an incredible sensor for what is happening market wide. And companies like Andreessen Horowitz, they do a really great job of helping people to understand what the market is, is doing, and kind of sharing some ideas about maybe sharing both ways on the government saying, well, these are our needs, this is where we will maybe be investing. So shared market awareness. That is a good thing. I see folks engaging in vendors at conferences, that's good education, both ways. I mean, Industry Days are always a good way. But the big players kind of dominate those areas. Then it comes down to relationships, you know, so you have places like AF works and South works near and dear to your heart. I know. That act is that front door, but especially since COVID. It is their different levels of understanding of how to use those front doors. And it also comes down to there are so many people knocking on that front door, that it is hard for the government to understand differentiation. And so even though that front door is meant to be there to level the playing field, it still comes down to partially relationships and partially hustle. You can develop relationships through hustle and through hard nailing that elevator pitch. But then it you know; it becomes much more like selling to a corporation. You must be on that on that buyer list, you must develop the relationship, you must be on the radar, and then you must deliver.

Lauren Bedula 40:05
We talked about the cultural issue, something that comes to mind for me, on the private sector side is, the government gets a lot of heat as the buyer for things that they could be doing better. But I know very well that the private sector can be a stronger partner as well. I am curious if you have any thoughts or advice to listeners, maybe on the private sector side about how they can be stronger partners?

Lauren Knausenberger 40:27
I think it really goes both ways still. You know, I think, because I have lived in both worlds. People share with me, the horrors of, of both sides of this, you know, on the government side, at the senior levels will say, come on, guys, if I have this is not aligned to what we need, tell us, you know, work with us, let us, let us be upfront and deliver what we need, you know, even if maybe we did not get it right in the contract the first time. And on the vendor side, they want that too. But if a vendor comes and says, oh, I want to change this, a lot of times the government at the level that is administering the contract will say, oh, well, they are trying to pull one over on me, they are just trying to take more money. And there's kind of maybe a little bit of I see often just not wanting to be tricked kind of thing. And so, in that chain somewhere, I think we have a little bit of a breakdown. And I have unfortunately heard often on the vendor side. We are trying to be upfront; we are trying to share exactly where our incentives would be aligned. But we are not actually being listened to, or the senior levels, absolutely want to do this, but it is not being executed. And so that is unfortunate, because everybody wants the same thing. But then we do not we do not execute it that way. There are legitimate times to that, you know, vendor will come back and say, okay, I know that is what you want. But in the bid, you decided that you were going to pay $2 million for this $10 million project. But if you really want that $10 million dollar answer, we are going to have to raise, raise our bid. That is a foul on both sides. Absolutely. If I Well, why didn't you bid what was needed to complete what we said we wanted? Well, why did you award something that was unachievable, and basically flag that you were going to buy this based on price. And that has been I mean, that has been the problem for, you know, 20 years, right. So, I think that is something where we must listen and probably follow up and pick where we really want to shift those incentives. I think I have seen us do it really, well. And I do not know if it is maybe inconsistency in how we do the contracts. But I mean, it is the same thing. And in deploying Tech, we can do it, we show that we can do it all the time. But there are pockets of excellence, and then packets where we are going to get caught every time.

Hondo Geurts 43:03
Yeah, I think one of the challenges is we are such a big department differentiating the work and figuring out how to contract, especially if you do not know the technology, well, you can contract for like you are building a piece of hardware when it is a different. So, I think, in a lot of what you did was help raise the competence level. Let us talk a little bit about talent. Because one of the things I have really admired about you was you were an example for other folks to see of how you can really make an impact in this giant bureaucracy without having lived in the bureaucracy for 25 years and inspire other 17-year-olds to go do an internship. What? And I know you that was a big thing for you, when you were in how do you see the DOD thinking about talent? What's working? What other things could they do to better inform folks who may have no idea they see depending on driving by, but they have no idea how it works, and maybe want to go give it a try.

Lauren Knausenberger 44:06
On the on the positive side, I hear more executives say I want to contribute. I either want to I had a billionaire, tell me, you know, I know I am too old to put on my flight suit. But how do I how do I jump into this? And he was thinking about well, do I do I throw some money behind some funds that will go after companies that deliver capabilities, we really need do I have maybe you know to brush off some of my ties and I am go take a you know, an executive role in the Pentagon. A lot of a lot of founders have capabilities, shared with me when I exit, I absolutely want to jump into government and capabilities, I think it is wonderful to hear people expressing that desire. And I have seen it work more recently, too. When I was hired as an H QE. We did not really talk about each QE as much and it had not really worked out super well. But now there are several HQ is that we have that are there they stayed for a long time, they have made a difference. Maybe they have transitioned other things. Aaron Weiss was another. And they have we are showing too, that people can contribute for a period, they can go, they can come back, it is great. I think on the more junior side, we have lower propensity to serve, which is, you know, which is hurting us for a variety of reasons, except in Space Force. Everybody is like, Oh, man, Space Force. That is cool. And I think that is great, you know, Space Force, you know it in everything they do, you know, they can kind of, they can embrace the geek, like you want to go do amazing tech, come join the Space Force. And I think on the branding side, they have done well, too. And I think people agree that spaces may be less divisive. And so, I think that, you know, if that's where people want to serve, bring them in, it is great. I think that the middle levels are tough, too. But there is so much benefit to government service, I forget who it was, who wrote an op ed on this, in this past week, it might have been, it might have been McChrystal just kind of making the argument that everyone should serve in whatever way it is. It could be military; it could be nonprofit. And that is something that I really do believe, I think the Israelis got that right. I do not think everybody should necessarily do military service. But everyone should do some sort of service. And we are the type of country where, you know, since World War Two, I do not think we have told anyone that they had to serve. And that is something that I think we are proud of. But I would love to see more people choose to. And there are a lot of people in the country too, and a lot of parts of our country where there used to be great industries. And there are not those great industries anymore. And, and you know, a lot of communities that have lost a point of pride as a result of that. But there could be new pride also in service. And so, I think that kind of focusing on people that they have so much that they want to give, and maybe have not had the opportunity to give all that they can just from kind of we are what we observe as we grow up, you know, a lot of people want to do what their parents did. You know, what if you cannot, but you did not have another example. And I think that is a place where government service really can fill a gap, too. So, I do not know how we I do not know how we jump into that. But I know I will preach it from a couple of mountaintops.

Lauren Bedula 47:40
And again, I think your story is a great one for our listeners to think about too, and especially this beautiful balance you talked about between the private sector, industry, and government. I wanted to just quickly get your take on the threat landscape. We talked about cyber very quickly. There had been some recent high-profile breaches. Are the computers fixed, where do we stand anything keeps you up at night these days?

Lauren Knausenberger 48:03
I mean, it is an it is a wild, it is wild world. I hope that we will maintain our focus on Ukraine and see it through. I hope that we will continue to see a lot of investment in cybersecurity, and especially post quantum encryption. And even knowing what our inventory is, I think those are really important areas that we need to continue investing in. And yeah, the rest of it is just Can we can we continue to deliver capabilities and come together as quickly as we need to. If you look at our competitors around the world, they are not they are not arguing over whether hope they should help defense or not. And, you know, we unfortunately, you know, we, we have some things that divide us. And that is sad. And I think as much as we can kind of come together and realize that I do fully believe that at our core, everybody wants the same thing. But we have gotten a little maybe obsessed with labels. And I think that that is something we must deal with as a nation. And that that is something that will also help with bringing together commercial and defense.

Lauren Bedula 49:31
And it is frustrating to hear about those recent headlines, the Android getting pulled Bedula 49:31 out of the conference. But I think we have seen so much progress in this space. And that is in large part thanks to leaders like you who have gone in and helped to drive that change. So, thank you, Lauren, for coming on the show and sharing some of those stories and the advice to our listeners who are trying to help with this problem as well. Again, I think this idea of the balance between the two and cross pollination between the private sector and US GAAP remainder key so thank you again for joining us

Lauren Knausenberger 50:03
Thanks a lot, great to see you guys

Hondo Geurts 50:06
Thanks for joining us