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National Science Foundation
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Master Government List of FFRDCs
General Notes
Historical Notes
Prior Lists of FFRDCs
Federally Funded R&D Centers
Postdoctorates at FFRDCs
Survey
Federal Funds for R&D
Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering
R&D Expenditures at FFRDCs
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Master Government List of
Federally Funded R&D Centers (FFRDCs)

General Notes

Federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) have evolved from research facilities established to meet the special needs of World War II. Until 1967 the centers were called "federal contract research centers." In that year the Federal Council for Science and Technology (FCST) set criteria for the newly named "federally funded research and development centers."

General Guidelines

The FCST Memorandum of 1 November 1967 included the following:

In general, all of the following criteria should be met by an institutional unit before it is to be included in the category "Federally Funded Research and Development Center."

  1. (a) Primary activities include one or more of the following: basic research, applied research, development, or management of R&D; specifically excluded are organizations engaged primarily in: routine quality control and testing, routine service activities, production, mapping and surveys, and information dissemination.
  2. (b) Constitute a separate organizational unit within the parent organization or is organized as a separately incorporated organization.
  3. (c) Performs actual R&D or R&D management either upon direct request of the Government or under a broad charter from the Government, but in either case under the direct monitorship of the Government.
  4. (d) Receives its major financial support (70% or more) from the Federal Government, usually from one agency.
  5. (e) Has or is expected to have a long-term relationship with its sponsoring agency (about five years or more), as evidenced by the specific obligations it and the agency assume. [1]
  6. (f) Most or all of the facilities are owned or funded for in the contract by the Government.
  7. (g) Has an average annual budget (operating and capital equipment) of at least $500,000. [2]

In 1984 the Office of Federal Procurement Policy amended the criteria to read as follows:

5.c. Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC).

  1. (1) FFRDCs do not have a prescribed organizational structure. They can range from the traditional contractor-owned/contractor-operated or Government-owned/contractor-operated (GOCO) organizational structures to various degrees of contractor/Government control and ownership. In general, however, all of the following criteria should be met before an activity is identified as an FFRDC:
    1. (a) Performs, analyzes, integrates, supports (non-financial) and/or manages basic research, applied research, and/or development. (Activities primarily engaged in routine quality control and testing, routine service activities, production, mapping and surveys, and information dissemination, even though otherwise meeting the requirements of paragraph 5.c., are specifically excluded from FFRDC designation.)
    2. (b) Performance of the functions in 5.c.(1)(a) is either upon the direct request of the Government or under a broad charter from the Government, but in either case the results are directly monitored by the Government. However, the monitoring shall not be such as to create a personal services relationship, or to cause disruptions that are detrimental to the productivity and/or quality of the FFRDC's work.
    3. (c) The majority of the activity's financial support (70% or more) is received from the Government with a single agency usually predominating in that financial support.
    4. (d) In general, most or all of the facilities are owned by the Government or funded, under contract, by the Government.
    5. (e) The activity is operated, managed and/or administered by either a university or consortium of universities, other nonprofit organization or industrial firm as an autonomous organization or as an identifiable separate operating unit of a parent organization.
    6. (f) A long term relationship evidenced by specific agreement exists or is expected to exist between the operator, manager, or administrator of the activity and its primary sponsor.
  2. (2) In addition to the above criteria, the relationship between the activity and the Government should exhibit the following characteristics in order to qualify for FFRDC identification:
    1. (a) The activity (organization and/or facilities) is brought into existence at the initiative of a Government agency or bureau to meet some special research or development need which, at the time, cannot be met as effectively by existing in-house or contractor resources.
    2. (b) Work from other than a sponsoring agency is undertaken only to the extent permitted by the sponsoring agency and in accordance with the procedures of the sponsoring agency.
    3. (c) The activity, whether the operator of its own or a Government-owned facility, has access, beyond that which is common to the normal contractual relationship, to Government and/or supplier data, employees, and facilities needed to discharge its responsibilities efficiently and effectively, whether the data is sensitive/proprietary or not.
    4. (d) The primary sponsor undertakes the responsibility to assure a reasonable continuity in the level of support to the activity consistent with the agency's need for the activity and the terms of the sponsoring agreement.

    5. (e) The activity is required to conduct its business in a responsible manner befitting its special relationship with the Government, to operate in the public interest free from organizational conflict of interest, and to disclose its affairs (as an FFRDC) to the primary sponsor. [3]

Effective 1 February 2010, Federal Acquisition Regulations criteria for FFRDCs were updated as follows:

35.017 (a)

  1. (2) An FFRDC meets some special long-term research or development need which cannot be met as effectively by existing in-house or contractor resources. FFRDCs enable agencies to use private sector resources to accomplish tasks that are integral to the mission and operation of the sponsoring agency. An FFRDC, in order to discharge its responsibilities to the sponsoring agency, has access, beyond that which is common to the normal contractual relationship, to Government and supplier data, including sensitive and proprietary data, and to employees and installations equipment and real property. The FFRDC is required to conduct its business in a manner befitting its special relationship with the Government, to operate in the public interest with objectivity and independence, to be free from organizational conflicts of interest, and to have full disclosure of its affairs to the sponsoring agency. It is not the Government's intent that an FFRDC use its privileged information or access to installations equipment and real property to compete with the private sector. However, an FFRDC may perform work for other than the sponsoring agency under the Economy Act, or other applicable legislation, when the work is not otherwise available from the private sector.
  2. (3) FFRDCs are operated, managed, and/or administered by either a university or consortium of universities, other not-for-profit or nonprofit organization, or an industrial firm, as an autonomous organization or as an identifiable separate operating unit of a parent organization.
  3. (4) Long-term relationships between the Government and FFRDCs are encouraged in order to provide the continuity that will attract high-quality personnel to the FFRDC. This relationship should be of a type to encourage the FFRDC to maintain currency in its field(s) of expertise, maintain its objectivity and independence, preserve its familiarity with the needs of its sponsor(s), and provide a quick response capability.[4]

National Science Foundation Role in FFRDC Administration

In 1990 NSF was given new responsibilities under the Federal Acquisition Regulations as recorded in the Federal Register:

"35.017-6 Master list of FFRDCs.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) maintains a master Government list of FFRDCs. Primary sponsors will provide information on each FFRDC, including sponsoring agreements, mission statements, funding data, and type of R&D being performed, to the NSF upon its request for such information."[4]

Thus, NSF maintains the Master Government List of FFRDCs but does not decide which organizations meet the FFRDC criteria. Rather, NSF adds each FFRDC to the list when the head of the sponsoring agency notifies NSF in writing that he or she has approved a new FFRDC.[4]

Data Availability

NSF reports data on FFRDCs annually in the following series: Federal Funds for Research and Development (obligations for R&D and for R&D plant reported by federal agencies) and FFRDC R&D Expenditures (FFRDC-reported data). NSF has maintained a list of federal contract research centers since the 1950s and, since 1967, a list of FFRDCs.

NSF also reports data on the demographic characteristics, research fields, and sources of support of postdoctoral researchers (postdocs) employed at FFRDCs in the annual series Postdocs at Federally Funded R&D Centers.

Footnotes

[1] In practice, agencies review their need for each FFRDC at least once every 5 years. The period of performance for FFRDC contracts ranges from 1 to 5 years.

[2] Hornig DF. 1967. Memorandum to members of Federal Council for Science and Technology. Subject: Federally funded research and development centers. Unpublished memorandum from the Federal Council for Science and Technology, Executive Office of the President, Washington DC, 1 November.

[3] Sowle DE. 1984. OFPP Policy Letter 84–1 to the Heads of Executive Departments and Establishments. Subject: Federally funded research and development centers. Letter from the Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget, Office of Federal Procurement Policy, Washington, DC, 4 April.

[4] General Services Administration. 2013. Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). Effective 29 January 2013. http://www.acquisition.gov/far/current/html/Subpart 35_0.html#wp1085247

 

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