The State of Basic Research in DOD Laboratories

MASAD-81-5: Published: Feb 19, 1981. Publicly Released: Feb 19, 1981.

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In a government-wide study of research and development (R&D) laboratories, some Department of Defense (DOD) laboratory directors expressed concern about their laboratories' loss of opportunity to perform long-term basic research because DOD has placed emphasis on solving near-term problems. Therefore, GAO reviewed the levels and trends of in-house basic research and the extent that the levels have declined in recent years to determine what impact this might have on the future health and vitality of the DOD laboratories.

GAO found that Defense R&D provides the technological foundation for national security. DOD in-house laboratories play a vital role in striving for technological leads in areas important to defense, guarding against technological surprise by the adversary, and providing options which shape the U.S. military posture. Doing basic research is essential to the laboratories' vitality because it helps them to attract good scientists, keep up with and use advances in science, and increase the overall level of technical ability. The level of basic research performed at the in-house laboratories has seriously declined, and the DOD research growth is planned for the external research community. Allowing the laboratories to remain at the current level of basic research performance could erode their long-term ability to perform those functions which are basic to supporting a mission organization.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status:

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should consider whether the present level of in-house research is adequate to maintain the health and vitality of the laboratories, and that the same careful consideration be given to the research base represented by the in-house laboratories as has been given to the needs of the external research community.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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