Dr. David Pittman: Foundational Leadership Helps ERDC Thrive Despite COVID-19 Challenges

Award Year 

Of the three years that Dr. David Pittman has served as director of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), 2020 perhaps best illustrates his profound impact on the lab, the agency and technology transfer (T2). Despite numerous challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Pittman and his team did much more than survive 2020 — they thrived.  (more)

Pittman oversaw the formation of an enormous new teleworking initiative that kept researchers working on crucial projects, even as the number of on-site staff dropped to 6% of its standard workforce. As the year drew to a close and 65% of the workforce was still working remotely, ERDC continued to deliver numerous lifesaving solutions as part of its COVID-19 response. 

Of the many technologies employed in ERDC’s COVID-19 response, the rapid development of alternate care facilities (ACFs) for coronavirus patients is a prime example of a particularly successful T2 effort, one that Pittman actively oversaw. ERDC’s work on ACFs — transforming convention centers and other buildings into temporary hospitals — allowed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide 15,000 additional hospital beds in 17 states as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

Successes like these would not be possible without the firm foundation that Pittman has established by personally investing in his team and making effective technology transfer a top priority for the organization. During his tenure as director, ERDC has greatly extended its reach and paved the way for its innovations to make an even greater impact on the military and the world. 

Pittman has taken numerous concrete steps to transform the culture at ERDC, leveraging its dynamic, creative workforce through innovative processes and initiatives that foster communication and collaboration. 

He applied his philosophy that “our people are our greatest source of strength” using a twofold approach. First, he sought new ways for the lab to recruit, retain and invest in the world’s most exceptional researchers and engineers. Second, he guided the creation of an infrastructure that promotes open communication and opportunities for cross-pollination. 

The new approaches inside ERDC were mirrored by external initiatives as well. These included adding new types of partner agreements (Partnership Intermediary Agreements in particular) to the lab’s portfolio, establishing innovation and enterprise centers, mining academia vigorously for productive partnerships, participating in industry groups, investing in local communities, hosting conferences and other events, and pursuing new avenues for international agreements. 

The changes Pittman introduced have led directly to a remarkable increase in engagement and partnerships, with more than 700 partner agreements worldwide. These include 155 Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs), 74 Educational Partnership Agreements and 12 international agreements involving seven countries. Since 2017, Pittman has overseen a 33% increase in license agreements and exceeded all small-business contracting goals by an average of 37%.