Federally Funded R&D Centers Report 3% Increase in R&D Spending in FY 2020

NSF 22-302

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October 12, 2021

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The nation’s 42 federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) spent $23.5 billion on research and development in FY 2020, an annual increase of 3.4% in current dollars (table 1). The federal government’s share of support reached $23.1 billion in FY 2020 and represented a 3.6% increase in federal R&D support to FFRDCs—the seventh consecutive year of nominal growth after performance declines in FYs 2011–13. In constant dollars, total FFRDC R&D expenditures rose an average of 0.9% annually from 2011 to 2020 (figure 1). These and the other statistics in this report come from the FY 2020 FFRDC Research and Development Survey, conducted by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics within the National Science Foundation.

R&D expenditures at federally funded research and development centers, by source of funds: FYs 2011–20

(Thousands of current dollars)
Source(s):

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, FFRDC Research and Development Survey.

Total R&D expenditures at federally funded research and development centers: FYs 2011–20

(Millions of dollars)
Fiscal year Constant (2012) dollars Current dollars
2011 19,029 18,671
2012 18,281 18,281
2013 17,361 17,667
2014 17,097 17,719
2015 17,643 18,458
2016 18,180 19,220
2017 18,604 20,038
2018 19,195 21,172
2019 20,255 22,738
2020 20,695 23,514
Source(s):

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, FFRDC Research and Development Survey.

R&D by Funding Source

FFRDCs are privately operated R&D organizations that are exclusively or substantially financed by the federal government. Over 98% ($23.1 billion) of FFRDC R&D expenditures were funded by the federal government in FY 2020 (table 1). Nonfederal sources funded the remaining R&D, totaling about $380.7 million, including businesses ($172.9 million); nonprofit organizations ($47.1 million); state and local governments ($44.0 million); and all other sources ($116.8 million), such as funds from foreign governments and foreign or U.S. universities.

Federal Agency Sources of R&D Funding

Almost 91% of federally funded R&D expenditures at FFRDCs came from four agencies (table 2). The Department of Energy (DOE) ($12.1 billion) accounted for 53% of federally funded R&D spending. The Department of Defense (DOD) ($5.1 billion, or 22%), National Aeronautics and Space Administration ($2.8 billion, or 12%), and the Department of Health and Human Services ($1.1 billion, or 4.6%), which includes the National Institutes of Health, were the only other agencies funding greater than $1 billion. Just under $2 billion of federally funded R&D came from agencies other than the largest four. FFRDCs identified 28 agencies as sources of federal funding.

Federally financed R&D expenditures at federally funded research and development centers, by federal agency: FY 2020

(Thousands of current dollars)

FFRDC = federally funded research and development center.

a Some funding sources were not identified for security reasons or because the original source was not known.

Source(s):

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, FFRDC Research and Development Survey, FY 2020.

Expenditures, by Type of R&D

In FY 2020, basic research activities accounted for 20% of total FFRDC R&D expenditures, 2 percentage points lower than in FY 2016 (table 4). The remaining R&D expenditures were divided evenly between applied research and experimental development (at about 40% each). Overall, total basic research expenditures at FFRDCs increased by $488 million in current dollars from FY 2016 to FY 2020. Applied research expenditures and experimental development each increased by $1.9 billion during the same period.

R&D expenditures at federally funded research and development centers, by type of R&D: FYs 2016–20

(Millions of current dollars and percent)
Note(s):

Detail may not add to total because of rounding.

Source(s):

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, FFRDC Research and Development Survey.

Locations of FFRDCs

The 42 FFRDCs are located in 17 states and the District of Columbia (figure 2). Virginia, with 11 research centers, and California, with 8 research centers, have the most FFRDCs. Other states with several FFRDCs include Maryland (4), New Mexico (3), Colorado (2), Illinois (2), and Massachusetts (2). The National Security Engineering Center is the only FFRDC with locations in two states: Massachusetts and Virginia. The Washington-Baltimore-Arlington Combined Statistical Area (CSA) includes 14 FFRDCs due to the proximity of the federal government, although the R&D conducted by these FFRDCs totaled only $2.5 billion in FY 2020. The Los Angeles–Long Beach CSA included 5 FFRDCs with $3.9 billion in R&D, and the San Jose–San Francisco–Oakland CSA included 3 FFRDCs with R&D of $2.9 billion.

Locations of federally funded research and development centers: FY 2020

(Location)

CSA = combined statistical area; FFRDC = federally funded research and development center; Wash-Balt-Arl = Washington-Baltimore-Arlington.

Source(s):

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, FFRDC Research and Development Survey, FY 2020.

Data Sources, Limitations, and Availability

The statistics on FFRDC R&D expenditures presented in this report come from the FY 2020 FFRDC Research and Development Survey. This annual survey is completed by FFRDC administrators and collects data from FFRDCs on R&D expenditures by source of funds (federal government, state and local governments, businesses, nonprofit organizations, or other); federal agency source; type of R&D (basic research, applied research, or experimental development); type of cost (salaries, software, equipment, subcontracts, other direct costs, and indirect costs); and total operating budget. This survey has been a census of the full population of FFRDCs since FY 2001. For a list of criteria used to define the set of FFRDCs, see the general guidelines of the Master Government List of FFRDCs at https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/ffrdclist/#guide&gennotes.

The full set of data tables from this survey and more information on the survey methodology are available at https://ncses.nsf.gov/pubs/nsf22304/.

Notes

1The National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics was informed in June 2021 that the Green Bank Observatory separated from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in October 2016 to become an independent institution; both retained FFRDC status. The Master Government List of FFRDCs was subsequently updated to reflect this change.

2On 1 October 2019, the National Optical Astronomy Observatory was renamed NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory. The new laboratory also incorporates operations of the International Gemini Observatory and the Vera C. Rubin Observatory. This new organization contributed to the 90% growth in R&D in FY 2020. See also https://noirlab.edu/public/about/history-of-noao/.

3Definitions of CSAs of the United States and Puerto Rico can be found at https://www.census.gov/geographies/reference-maps/2020/geo/csa.html.

Suggested Citation

Gibbons MT; National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES). 2021. Federally Funded R&D Centers Report 3% Increase in R&D Spending in FY 2020. NSF 22-302. Alexandria, VA: National Science Foundation. Available at https://ncses.nsf.gov/pubs/nsf22302/.

Contact Us

Report Author

Michael T. Gibbons
Survey Manager
Research and Development Statistics Program, NCSES
Tel: (703) 292-4590
E-mail: mgibbons@nsf.gov

NCSES

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics
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National Science Foundation
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