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NSF Releases Statistics on R&D Expenditures in FY 2008 by Federally Funded R&D Centers

NSF 10-325 | August 2010 | PDF format. PDF  

by Mark Boroush[1]

Latest survey figures from the National Science Foundation (NSF) show that research and development expenditures by all federally funded R&D centers (FFRDCs) totaled $14.7 billion (current dollars) in FY 2008 (table 1). This represented about 35% of all federal R&D performance and 4% of all U.S. R&D that year.[2]

TABLE 1. R&D expenditures at federally funded research and development centers, by institution: FY 2008.

  Table 1 Source Data: Excel file

FFRDCs are privately operated R&D organizations but are exclusively or substantially financed by the federal government.[3] FFRDCs provide the sponsoring federal agencies with capabilities to meet special long-term R&D needs that cannot be met as effectively by existing in-house or contractor resources. FFRDC activities presently span various roles: analyzing, integrating, supporting (nonfinancial), and/or managing, in addition to performing R&D.

FFRDC organization ranges from traditional contractor-owned/contractor-operated or government-owned/contractor-operated structures to various degrees of contractor/government control and ownership. Each FFRDC is operated, managed, and/or administered by a university or university consortium, a nonprofit organization, or an industrial firm, either as an autonomous organization or as a separate operating unit.[4]

FFRDCs were created after the end of World War II, in a restructuring of earlier partnerships of academic scientists and the U.S. government (through ad hoc laboratories and research groups) to meet unique R&D needs of the war effort (which resulted in advanced radar and sonar technologies and the atomic bomb, among other developments). These prior relationships were transformed into federal research centers to retain academic scientists in the domestic efforts to advance nationally critical technologies. By the mid-1960s, these federal R&D facilities were termed "federally funded R&D centers." The FFRDCs continue today as significant components in the U.S. national and federal infrastructure for R&D; they perform R&D for both defense and civilian applications and across a broad range of science and engineering fields.

Master List of FFRDCs

In adherence to federal statute, NSF's Division of Science Resources Statistics maintains a master list of FFRDCs with current information on sponsoring federal agency, type of administrator, geographic location, and type of activity.[5], [6] At the close of federal FY 2008, there were 38 FFRDCs located across 18 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico (table 1).

The current FFRDC roster encompasses R&D laboratories, study and analysis centers, and systems engineering centers. Sixteen of the 38 current FFRDCs are sponsored by the Department of Energy (DOE). The Department of Defense sponsors 10; NSF, 5; and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), 2. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Federal Aviation Administration, and Internal Revenue Service each sponsor one FFRDC.

Fourteen of the FFRDCs are currently administered by universities or university consortiums; 18 are administered by nonprofit organizations; and 6 are administered by industrial organizations. (FFRDCs may have a mix of administrators; classifications reported here reflect the lead administrator.) This distribution among administrative categories has been fairly stable over time. But in the last several years, two of DOE's largest FFRDCs—Los Alamos National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory—shifted from university-administered to industry-administered. The two most recently created FFRDCs (both established in March 2009) are sponsored by DHS.

R&D Expenditures and Funding

The $14.7 billion of total R&D expenditures by FFRDCs in FY 2008 represented an increase of more than 6% over the previous year (table 2). Total FFRDC R&D expenditures have generally increased over the last 5 years: growth in funding averaged 3.9% annually over the FY 2003–08 period, outpacing the general rate of inflation in the economy, which averaged 2.9% annually over the same period. The slight decline in FY 2006—which is somewhat larger when adjusted for inflation—was an exception over this recent period. (A more varied set of trends is apparent when subtotals for the various types of administration are distinguished. But these patterns are complicated by the earlier mentioned shifts of the two DOE national laboratories, in 2006 and 2007, from university-administered to industry-administered.)

TABLE 2. Total and federally financed R&D expenditures at federally funded research and development centers, by type of FFRDC: FY 2003–08.

  Table 2 Source Data: Excel file

Federal government funding accounted for 97% ($14.3 billion) of the FY 2008 FFRDC expenditure total (table 2). The small remainder (some $0.4 billion) came from a mix of other sources, including state and local government, industry, and the FFRDCs' own funds. This predominant federal role in the funding of FFRDC R&D has varied only slightly over the last 5 years; furthermore, it differs only marginally when the expenditure totals are disaggregated to distinguish the administration by universities, nonprofit organizations, and industrial firms.

Data from NSF's Survey of Research and Development Expenditures at FFRDCs indicate that in FY 2008 basic research activities accounted for 37% of total FFRDC R&D expenditures; applied research, 27%; and development, 36% (table 3). When the expenditure totals are distinguished by type of administrator, the shares for basic research remain similar, ranging from 35% to 39%. For applied research and development, the shares range more widely among the three types of administrators.

TABLE 3. R&D expenditures at federally funded research and development centers, by character of work and type of FFRDC: FY 2008.

  Table 3 Source Data: Excel file

Data Source and Availability

The statistics on FFRDC R&D presented in this report come from NSF's Survey of Research and Development Expenditures at FFRDCs. This survey—directed at FFRDC administrators—is conducted annually (in conjunction with NSF's Survey of Research and Development Expenditures at Universities and Colleges). The survey collects data from the FFRDCs on R&D expenditures by source of funds (federal, state and local, industry, institutional, or other) and by character of work (basic research, applied research, or development). Since FY 2001 this survey has been a census of the full population of FFRDCs.

A full set of detailed statistical tables associated with the FY 2008 FFRDC survey is available in the report FFRDC Research and Development Expenditures: Fiscal Year 2008.[7]

Update on Other NSF Activities to Survey FFRDCs

Many FFRDCs employ postdocs as part of their efforts to assist government agencies with scientific research and analysis and to train the country's researchers and scientists. In 2008 NSF, partnering with DOE and NIH, began gathering data for a survey about postdoctoral researchers (postdocs) working in FFRDCs. For 2009, the survey is collecting data on the total number of postdocs categorized by sex, race/ethnicity, citizenship, source of support (federal or non-federal), and selected fields of research. These data are contributing to NSF's development of a comprehensive picture of the training of the nation's postdocs in science, engineering, and health-related fields.


[1]  Mark Boroush, Research and Development Statistics Program, Division of Science Resources Statistics, National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 965, Arlington, VA 22230 (mboroush@nsf.gov; 703-292-8726).

[2]  These comparisons are based on the 2008 edition of NSF's National Patterns of R&D Resources. (See http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/infbrief/nsf10312/.) Federal R&D performance is the sum of R&D activities of federal agency intramural research laboratories, agency planning and administration of intramural and extramural R&D, and FFRDC R&D.

[3] For a description of the federal guidelines and definitions governing FFRDCs, see the "General Notes" section at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/ffrdclist/gennotes.cfm.

[4]  Each FFRDC is legally structured as a not-for-profit limited liability company (LLC).

[5] General Services Administration, Department of Defense, National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Federal Acquisition Regulation, Part 35, Section 35.017-6. (Office of Management and Budget, 2005). Available at https://www.acquisition.gov/FAR/.

[6] The NSF FFRDCs Master Government List is accessible at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/ffrdclist/.

[7]  National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics (NSF/SRS). 2010. FFRDC Research and Development Expenditures: Fiscal Year 2008. Detailed Statistical Tables NSF 10-310. Arlington, VA. Available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsf10310/.

National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics
NSF Releases Statistics on R&D Expenditures in FY 2008 by Federally Funded R&D Centers
Arlington, VA (NSF 10-325) [August 2010]

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