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FFRDCs A Primer: Federally Funded Research and Development Centers in the 21st Century

November 2017 Presentation
Software Engineering Institute

Throughout this Primer, we explain what FFRDCs are, how they have secured their long-term place in our national research and development (R&D) landscape, and what they offer for the future.


Software Engineering Institute


For nearly 70 years, federally funded research and development centers, or FFRDCs, have been vital to our nation’s growth and security. They have supported the government by developing transformational capabilities in defense, transportation, energy, civil agency administration, homeland security, atmospheric sciences, science policy, and other areas. Yet their existence remains largely unknown to the average person. Even those familiar with FFRDCs may be hard-pressed to explain their history, purpose, and operation.

FFRDCs are part of a “three-legged stool” that supports government research, technology development, systems acquisition, and policy guidance. The three “legs” are commercial industry, academic and related not-for-profit organizations (including FFRDCs), and government employees. Each of these institutional players approaches problems from a somewhat different angle, and each has an important role in driving innovation and solving problems.

FFRDCs date back to World War II and its aftermath. Government agencies recognized the need to maintain and take advantage of a critical mass of science and technology knowledge not otherwise available in the standard civil-service environment.