Cover: International Basic Research Collaboration at the U.S. Department of Defense

International Basic Research Collaboration at the U.S. Department of Defense

An Overview

Published Jan 23, 2023

by Alison K. Hottes, Marjory S. Blumenthal, Jared Mondschein, Matthew Sargent, Caroline Wesson


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Research Questions

  1. How does DoD approach IBRC?
  2. How does DoD fit into the broader research ecosystem?
  3. What scientific and strategic considerations influence DoD IBRC decisions?
  4. How could DoD improve how it uses IBRC?

In response to concerns about the research strength and practices of strategic competitors, the Basic Research Office within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering asked the RAND National Defense Research Institute to study how the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) approaches international basic research collaboration (IBRC) and formulate suggestions for DoD to improve how it uses IBRC.

Benefits of IBRC include reducing technological surprise, leveraging investments of partners and allies, accessing diverse resources, and integrating international scientific thought leaders into DoD networks. Although strategic considerations add to or detract from the scientific benefits for some collaborations, not participating in IBRC would carry costs in the form of lost opportunities. Suggestions include (1) providing knowledge management tools for DoD personnel whose IBRC responsibilities would benefit from having a more comprehensive picture of collaboration opportunities and considerations, (2) improving guidance to reduce instances of DoD researchers unnecessarily choosing not to work with the best partners, (3) considering ways to streamline IBRC application and approval processes, (4) analyzing whether the size and number of grants that DoD awards to foreign researchers is sufficient for DoD to meet its goal of being the partner of choice, and (5) assembling a fuller picture of DoD's IBRC efforts and processes.

Key Findings

DoD and other organizations approach IBRC differently

  • DoD is unique in its emphasis on directly funding foreign researchers in foreign institutions in the absence of a project with domestic researchers.
  • DoD grants permit publication, offer favorable intellectual property terms, and offer the prestige of collaborating with U.S. scientists, which makes DoD the partner of choice for many foreign researchers.
  • DoD's approach heavily leverages the worldwide presence of international office persons (IOPs), who engage with promising foreign researchers to increase the relevance of their grant applications to DoD.

The project team identified three challenges to IBRC success at DoD

  • IOPs lack efficient and effective ways to assemble the information needed to identify and evaluate collaboration opportunities.
  • Some foreign researchers choose not to work for DoD for a variety of personal, institutional, and country-wide reasons.
  • Some DoD intramural researchers prefer to avoid engaging internationally.

These suggestions might help DoD improve how it uses IBRC

  • Provide knowledge management tools to help DoD research funders and DoD intramural researchers identify, evaluate, establish, and conduct international collaborations.
  • Review, improve, and publicize policies and guidance to reduce instances of DoD intramural and DoD-funded U.S. academic researchers unnecessarily choosing not to work with high-quality foreign partners.
  • Streamline application and approval processes to reduce overhead associated with IBRC.
  • Analyze whether adjusting the size, number, and terms of DoD grants to foreign researchers could help DoD meet its goal of being the partner of choice.
  • Assemble a fuller, multiservice picture of DoD international basic research efforts and processes.

This research was sponsored by the Basic Research Office within the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering and conducted within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Program of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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