Federally Funded Research and Development Centers

Through its long-term investment in federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs), the U.S. government has built a network of institutions with unique analytical and technical capabilities. FFRDCs fall into three classes: studies and analysis centers, which focus on policy; research and development laboratories, which generate new technologies; and systems engineering and integration centers, which help sponsors manage technological development programs. Although their missions vary widely, all of these institutions provide continuous and interactive support to their sponsors, and all share the same basic administrative philosophy.

FFRDCs are prohibited from competing for government business with commercial bidders for services and products that could equally well be provided by others. Instead, they perform research in areas and in ways that their sponsors cannot satisfy with internal resources or commercial contractors. Because of their nonprofit status, FFRDCs have no commercial or proprietary stake in their findings. They are chartered to work in politically sensitive areas, and they have access to data beyond that normally accessible to for-profit contractors. Because they are independent, apolitical, guided solely by the public interest, and funded to maintain a stable capability, FFRDCs can impartially examine highly controversial issues.

The RAND Corporation operates three FFRDCs: RAND Project AIR FORCE, the National Defense Research Institute, and the RAND Arroyo Center. All are studies and analysis organizations. As such, they are intended to provide a steady stream of independent yet responsive policy research, generate new ideas, offer alternative approaches, and maintain a capability to lend such support over the long term. This requires

  • a coherent research program centered on the major policy issues that their sponsors expect to confront in the future;

  • a reservoir of expertise and analytical tools-technical staff, methodologies, and an internal research capital base-geared to sponsors' needs;

  • a flexible operation that can quickly change the direction of ongoing work and provide short-term assistance to meet sponsors' urgent and highest-priority needs.

Each of RAND's FFRDCs has its own research agenda and maintains a separate relationship with its sponsor(s). However, they all share a common heritage and benefit equally from the diversity and experience of RAND's research staff.