The Pentagon is making good use of a rapid-innovation program created by Congress, even though the military hasn’t actually requested the money for it, a senior official told lawmakers yesterday.

Zachary Lemnios, assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering, spoke positively about the Department of Defense Rapid Innovation Program under questioning from Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee.

Congress created the program in the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization act. The Pentagon, though, never officially requested it be created or funded. Lawmakers have appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars for the program. The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) touted it back in 2011 as “a competitive, merit-based program designed to fund innovative technologies, reduce acquisition or life cycle costs, address technical risks, improve the timeliness of test and evaluation outcomes, and rapidly insert technologies needed to meet critical national security needs.” He encouraged companies, universities and other organizations in his state to seek Rapid Innovation Program money for research in areas including energy security, manufacturing technology, advanced materials, and microelectronics.

Portman noted at an Emerging Threats panel hearing yesterday that Lemnios and service-level research officials have “talked about” the Rapid Innovation Program’s “necessity.”

“And yet I notice it’s not in your budgets,” the senator said, adding it’s never been in a Pentagon budget request.

“Is it working? Is it a benefit to the warfighter or not?” Portman asked yesterday, as the SASC is preparing to craft its version of the FY ’13 defense authorization bill.

Lemnios explained that Pentagon officials could not fit any program funding into the FY ’13 budget proposal that had to heed spending limits set in the Budget Control Act of 2011. Still, he said the Pentagon has $500 million already appropriated for the Rapid Innovation Program, for which it issued four Broad Agency Announcements seeking ideas from researchers outside of the government.

“We’re going through source selection and we’re about to award efforts on those,” Lemnios said.

He said “the good news” is that the legislation is “well-structured with clarity and effect.”

“That is, once the contract is let in two years we will know (if) we have a capability that supports…our warfighter, or supports an acquisition program and we can measure the effectiveness,” he said. “And as we go through the foreground of Rapid Innovation Program funding we want to see what those effects are.”

Lemnios added Pentagon officials “hope” the research efforts bear fruit in the way lawmakers expected when they created it.