Master Government List of Federally Funded R&D Centers

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."
  • (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.
  • (b) Constitute a separate organizational unit within the parent organization or is organized as a separately incorporated organization.
  • (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.
  • (d) Receives its major financial support (70% or more) from the Federal Government, usually from one agency.
  • (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]
  • (f) Most or all of the facilities are owned or funded for in the contract by the Government.
  • (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:
  • Effective 1 February 2010, Federal Acquisition Regulations criteria for FFRDCs were updated as follows:
    35.017 (a)
    • (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.
    • (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.
    • (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.[3]

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."[3]
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.[3]

Data Availability

NSF collects data on FFRDCs annually as part of the following surveys: Federal Funds for Research and Development (obligations for R&D and for R&D plant reported by federal agencies) and FFRDC Research and Development Survey (FFRDC-reported data). NSF also reports data on the demographic characteristics, research fields, and sources of support of postdoctoral researchers (postdocs) employed at FFRDCs in the Survey of Postdocs at Federally Funded Research and Development Centers.

1In 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.
2Hornig 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.
3General Services Administration. 2017. Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). Effective 19 January 2017.