Skip to Highlights
Highlights

In 2006, the federal government spent $13 billion--14 percent of its research and development (R&D) expenditures--to enable 38 federally funded R&D centers (FFRDCs) to meet special research needs. FFRDCs--including laboratories, studies and analyses centers, and systems engineering centers--conduct research in military space programs, nanotechnology, microelectronics, nuclear warfare, and biodefense countermeasures, among other areas. GAO was asked to identify (1) how federal agencies contract with organizations operating FFRDCs and (2) agency oversight processes used to ensure that FFRDCs are well-managed. GAO's work is based on a review of documents and interviews with officials from eight FFRDCs sponsored by the departments of Defense (DOD), Energy (DOE), Health and Human Services (HHS), and Homeland Security (DHS).

Skip to Recommendations

Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Homeland Security 1. To ensure that FFRDC employees operate in the government's best interest, the Secretary of Homeland Security should revise agency policies to address specific areas for potential personal conflicts of interest for FFRDC personnel in a position to make or materially influence research findings or agency decision making.
Closed - Implemented
In written comments on the report, DHS concurred with this recommendation. Its Science and Technology Directorate has revised Management Directive 143.04 to update its policies regarding potential personnel conflicts of interest of work involving Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) personnel.
Department of Health and Human Services 2. To ensure that FFRDC employees operate in the government's best interest, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should review agency policy regarding personal conflicts of interest for its sponsored FFRDC and revise as appropriate to ensure that this policy addresses all personnel in a position to make or materially influence research findings or agency decision making.
Closed - Implemented
In providing comments on this report, HHS concurred with this recommendation and currently has a final rule addressing it, 45 CFR Part 94, August 25, 2011.
Department of Energy 3. To improve the sharing of oversight best practices among agencies that sponsor FFRDCs, the Secretaries of Energy, Defense, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services, which together sponsor the vast majority of the government's FFRDCs, should take the lead in establishing an ongoing forum for government personnel from these and other agencies that sponsor FFRDCs to discuss their agencies' FFRDC policies and practices. Areas for knowledge sharing could include, for example, implementing personal conflicts of interest safeguards and processes for completing the justification reviews prior to renewing sponsoring agreements, among others.
Closed - Implemented
In providing comments on this report, Department of Energy concurred with this recommendation. DOD took the lead, working with DOE, to implement this interagency recommendation to establish an ongoing forum for government personnel that sponsor Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDC) to discuss FFRDC policies and practices. In December 2012, DOD held a forum for FFRDC-responsible representatives from DOD, DHS, DOE, and HHS, and agreed to make the forum an annual event.
Department of Health and Human Services 4. To improve the sharing of oversight best practices among agencies that sponsor FFRDCs, the Secretaries of Energy, Defense, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services, which together sponsor the vast majority of the government's FFRDCs, should take the lead in establishing an ongoing forum for government personnel from these and other agencies that sponsor FFRDCs to discuss their agencies' FFRDC policies and practices. Areas for knowledge sharing could include, for example, implementing personal conflicts of interest safeguards and processes for completing the justification reviews prior to renewing sponsoring agreements, among others.
Closed - Implemented
In providing comments on this report, HHS concurred with this recommendation. DOD took the lead, working with HHS, to implement this interagency recommendation to establish an ongoing forum for government personnel from all government agencies that sponsor Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDC) to discuss FFRDC policies and practices. In December 2012, DOD held a forum for FFRDC-responsible representatives from DOD, DHS, DOE, and HHS, and agreed to make the forum an annual event.
Department of Homeland Security 5. To improve the sharing of oversight best practices among agencies that sponsor FFRDCs, the Secretaries of Energy, Defense, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services, which together sponsor the vast majority of the government's FFRDCs, should take the lead in establishing an ongoing forum for government personnel from these and other agencies that sponsor FFRDCs to discuss their agencies' FFRDC policies and practices. Areas for knowledge sharing could include, for example, implementing personal conflicts of interest safeguards and processes for completing the justification reviews prior to renewing sponsoring agreements, among others.
Closed - Implemented
In providing comments on this report, Department of Homeland Security concurred with this recommendation. DOD took the lead, working with DHS, to implement this interagency recommendation to establish an ongoing forum for government personnel that sponsor Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDC) to discuss FFRDC policies and practices. In December 2012, DOD held a forum for FFRDC-responsible representatives from DOD, DHS, DOE, and HHS, and agreed to make the forum an annual event.
Department of Defense 6. To improve the sharing of oversight best practices among agencies that sponsor FFRDCs, the Secretaries of Energy, Defense, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services, which together sponsor the vast majority of the government's FFRDCs, should take the lead in establishing an ongoing forum for government personnel from these and other agencies that sponsor FFRDCs to discuss their agencies' FFRDC policies and practices. Areas for knowledge sharing could include, for example, implementing personal conflicts of interest safeguards and processes for completing the justification reviews prior to renewing sponsoring agreements, among others.
Closed - Implemented
In providing comments on this report, DOD concurred with this recommendation. DOD took the lead (working with Energy, Homeland Security and Health and Human Service) for implementing this interagency recommendation to establish an ongoing forum for government personnel from all government agencies that sponsor Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDC) to discuss FFRDC policies and practices. In December 2012, DOD held a forum for FFRDC-responsible representatives from DOD, DHS, DOE, and HHS, and agreed to make the forum an annual event.

Full Report