Performance Management and Assessment of Federally Funded Research and Development Centers

Lessons from Academic Literature and Practitioner Guidance

by Victoria A. Greenfield, Sandra Kay Evans, Laura Werber, Samantha Cherney, Lisa Pelled Colabella


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Research Questions

  1. What are the institutional prerequisites that enable effective oversight, management, and performance assessment of FFRDCs?
  2. What operational criteria are needed to run constructive assessment processes?

Many U.S. government agencies rely on nonprofit federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) for independent expertise in systems engineering and integration, study and analysis, and research and development. In this report, the authors discuss insights drawn from academic literature and practitioner guidance that are applicable to the effective oversight, management, and performance assessment of FFRDCs. They identify (1) institutional prerequisites for enabling effective oversight, management, and performance assessment of FFRDCs and (2) operational criteria for running constructive assessment processes.

Whereas academics and practitioners have written volumes on internal assessment — when an organization examines its own programs and employees — and commercial acquisitions, they have had comparatively little to say about relationships involving FFRDCs. However, research on performance management systems and related or subsidiary processes, including performance reviews and program evaluation, is broadly applicable to government oversight of and engagement with FFRDCs.

Thus, the authors examine a wide range of literature and guidance on performance management and program evaluation, looking for best practices in other potentially analogous and relevant organizational contexts, modifying and supplementing the processes as needed to account for contextual differences and other needs.

Key Findings

  • The literature on performance management systems suggests that an effective system should fit an organization's context and function holistically while serving the core purposes of performance management, which are both strategic and administrative.
  • Performance management systems should gather performance data that are connected with progress toward goals; communicate data to employees and other stakeholders (including the public) and obtain their feedback; use the data and feedback for strategic planning, including goal-setting processes; and then repeat the process.
  • The primary institutional prerequisites for effective oversight, management, and performance assessment of FFRDCs consist of (1) a strategy that articulates the organization's priorities and goals, (2) planning, resource allocation, and other decisionmaking processes for supporting and implementing the organization's strategy, (3) alignment and integration among the organization's processes and systems, and (4) mechanisms for reaching out to and communicating with stakeholders.
  • The operational criteria needed to run a constructive assessment process include the following: (1) the purpose and scope of the assessment are clear and shared by stakeholders, (2) grading standards are applied consistently and are unbiased, without a propensity toward low or high grading, (3) sources of evidence provide information from which to draw necessary, sufficient, empirical, objective, reliable, and valid evidence, (4) training imparts knowledge and skills to participate constructively in the performance review process and can yield buy-in, and (5) pilot testing occurs as validation before launching a full-scale assessment and with significant process changes.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Institutional Prerequisites for Effective Performance Management

  • Chapter Three

    Operational Criteria for an Effective Performance Assessment Process

  • Chapter Four

    Potential Weaknesses of Performance Management Systems and Assessment Processes

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Command (SMC) and conducted within the Resource Management Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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