Federal R&D Laboratories--Directors' Perspectives on Management

PSAD-80-8: Published: Nov 28, 1979. Publicly Released: Nov 28, 1979.

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A survey was conducted for the purpose of determining the role of Federal laboratories in carrying out agency missions and filling the Nation's research and development (R&D) needs. A questionnaire was mailed to laboratory directors in 8 of the 12 Federal agencies with laboratories. These eight agencies, which obligated about 77 percent of the total Federal R&D budget in fiscal year 1977, were: the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Interior, and Transportation; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; the Environmental Protection Agency; the Tennessee Valley Authority; and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. The survey observations were based on the analysis of 192 individual laboratory director responses received in early 1978 covering 220 research facilities.

In fiscal year 1977, the laboratories in the eight agencies surveyed managed $8.8 billion, which amounted to almost one-half of the total R&D funds allotted to their parent departments. The laboratories either used the funds for research within the research facility or for overseeing and supporting extramural efforts performed by a contractor, grantee, or another Government laboratory. The laboratory directors were given a great deal of authority over the funds and participated to a high degree in the budget process. The directors were generally satisfied with their control over funding affairs, but complained that they lacked adequate authority to manage personnel. In order to improve laboratory management operations, the directors advocated multiyear funding and a national policy with long-range planning commitments. The directors noted that there was pressure to accomplish short-range, applied R&D, but no attempt to increase basic research activities directed toward gaining a fuller knowledge or understanding of a subject under study. Staffing for the laboratories decreased during the period from 1972 to 1977. The lack of necessary staff expertise, personnel ceilings, and a full workload were reasons for deciding to have research performed outside the laboratory; as a result, however, more time was being spent by scientists and researchers to monitor extramural work. About one-third of the directors noted specific concerns over obsolete or outdated facilities.

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