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  2. Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDC)

Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDC)


Alternate Definition

FAR 2.101: A Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) is an activity sponsored under a broad charter by a Government agency (or agencies) for the purpose of performing, analyzing, integrating, supporting, and/or managing basic or applied research and/or development, and that receives 70 percent or more of its financial support from the Government; and --

  1. A long-term relationship is contemplated;
  2. Most or all of the facilities are owned or funded by the Government; and
  3. The FFRDC has access to Government and supplier data, employees, and facilities beyond that common in a normal contractual relationship.
Alternate Definition Source

DoDI 5000.77, Section 3, Paragraph 3.1.c: FFRDCs are created to: (1) Provide strategic value to their primary sponsors and DoD through independent, intellectually rigorous, relevant, and timely products and services, consistent with the competencies in their sponsoring agreements. (2) Support the Department’s goals of long-term improvement in operations and enhanced national security.

General Information


  • Establishes the DoD FFRDC Program.
  • Establishes policy, assigns responsibilities, and prescribes procedures for establishing, terminating, managing the use of, and overseeing DoD-sponsored FFRDCs:
    • Pursuant to Section 4126 (formerly Section 2367) of Title 10, United States Code (U.S.C.); Section 8025 of Public Law (PL) 116-93 (also known as the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020”), or a similar annually recurring provision if enacted in subsequent years; and
    • Part 35.017 of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and Part 235.017 of the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS).

History and Role of FFRDCs:

FFRDCs are unique nonprofit or university entities sponsored and funded by the U.S. government to meet some special long-term research or development need which cannot be met as effectively by existing in-house or contractor resources. It is common for agencies to establish long-term relationships with their FFRDCs in order to provide continuity. FFRDCs operate in the industries of defense, homeland security, energy, aviation, space, health and human services, and tax administration. FFRDCs are grouped into three categories focusing on different types of activities (the numbers represent the FFRDCs by category within DoD):

  • System Engineering and Integration Centers --2
  • Study and Analysis Centers -- 5
  • Research and Development Centers (includes national laboratories) -- 3

First established during World War II, FFRDCs, formerly called Federal Contract Research Centers (FCRCs), were semi-academic laboratories and research groups created by the federal government for defense research. FFRDCs grew out of the need to obtain objective assessments of military problems or programs of increasing technical complexity.

FFRCs 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 that does not have shareholders or partners. FFRDCs do not have a prescribed organizational structure. They can be structured around traditional contractor-owned/contractor-operated relationships, government sponsored private organizations, or government-owned/contractor-operated relationships or can reflect various balances of contractor/government control and ownership.

Two other types of Public Interest Partnerships for FFRDCs are:

  • Government-Owned/Contractor-Operated (GOCO) partnership
  • University Affiliated Research Center (UARC)

The FFRDC employs private sector resources to accomplish tasks integral to the mission and operation of the sponsoring agency and therefore have beyond normal access to Government and supplier data. They are required to conduct their business in a manner befitting their special relationship with the Government.

The Special Relationship:

An FFRDC’s performance of its tasks requires that a special relationship exist between the FFRDC and its sponsor. That relationship includes:

  • Comprehensive knowledge of sponsor needs – mission, culture, expertise and institutional memory regarding issues of enduring concern to the sponsor
  • Adaptability – ability to respond to emerging needs of their sponsors and anticipate future critical issues
  • Objectivity – ability to produce thorough, independent analyses to address complex technical and analytical problems
  • Freedom from conflicts of interest and dedication to the public interest – independence from commercial, shareholder, political, or other associations
  • Long-term continuity – uninterrupted, consistent support based on a continuing relationship
  • Broad access to sensitive government and commercial proprietary information – absence of institutional interests that could lead to misuse of information or cause contractor reluctance to provide such information
  • Quick response capability – ability to offer short-term assistance to help sponsors meet urgent and high-priority requirements

The benefit of the FFRDC is that there is no profit motive or conflict of interest, and the FFRDC can therefore function as an independent, trusted advisor and honest broker. The FFRDC is answerable only to the government customer and has no vested interest in particular technologies or solutions.

It is important to recognize that the FFRDC does not compete for federal contracts against non-FFRDCs, but may compete with other FFRDCs to become a government organization’s FFRDC. The FFRDC is required to work within the purpose, mission, general scope, or competency as assigned by the sponsoring agency. The FFRDC must not perform work that is otherwise performed by a for profit corporation. The following agencies have established FFRDCs:

  • Department of Defense (DoD)
  • Department of Energy (DOE)
  • Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
  • Department of Transportation (DOT)
  • Department of the Treasury (TREASURY)
  • Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
  • National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) - National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence (NCCoE)
  • National Science Foundation (NSF)
  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)

The Role of the National Science Foundation (NSF):

The NSF maintains the master list of FFRDCs. The National Science Foundation Act mandated the NSF to "... provide a central clearinghouse for the collection, interpretation, and analysis of data on scientific and engineering resources, and to provide a source of information for policy formulation by other agencies of the Federal Government ..."

FAR 35.017-8 states that the NSF will maintain a master federal government list of FFRDCs. This list was formally established in 1967 and is the definitive list of organizations that are FFRDCs. According to the master list of the National Science Foundation (NSF), there are currently 38 FFRDCs. The master list can be found at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/ffrdclist/.

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.

The Sponsoring Agreement.

FAR 35.017-1 describes the special relationship between FFRDCs and their sponsors. The FAR requires a written agreement of sponsorship between the government and an FFRDC and sets forth the federal policy regarding the establishment, use, review, and termination of FFRDCs. FFRDCs agree to terms and conditions more restrictive than those of other organizations that do business with the federal government. The substance of the agreement is that FFRDCs not make a profit, not compete for federal work, not work for commercial clients, not manufacture products, and not carry out functions performed by the DoD. Sponsors do not assign work that could be carried out effectively by for-profit companies except on a very limited basis to maintain expertise and continuity within their FFRDC.

A Sponsoring Agreement is unique to FFRDCs. It defines the work and describes the context in which that work is performed. A Sponsoring Agreement is clearly designated as such by the sponsor, may take various forms, and is written to facilitate the long-term, special relationship between the Government and an FFRDC. It:

  • States the purpose and mission of the FFRDC
  • Provides provisions for the orderly termination or nonrenewal of the agreement, disposal of assets, and settlement of liabilities
  • Directs how retained earnings may be used
  • Prohibits the FFRDC from competing against any non-FFRDC except to operate an FFRDC
  • Determines whether or not an FFRDC can accept work from any organizations other than the sponsor(s)