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Federally funded R&D centers increase R&D expenditures by billions

September 13, 2023
By: Conor Gowder

The United States' 42 federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) received a record $26 billion in federal government funding in fiscal year 2022 — a nearly 6% increase compared to the previous year. FFRDCs expended $26.5 billion on R&D in FY 2022, marking the ninth consecutive year of nominal growth. On average, FFRDCs have increased R&D expenditures by 1.3% per annum since 2012. Yet when looking at only the three most recent years of available data, from FY 2020-2022, this average drops to just 0.4%.

FFRDCs are independent, non-governmental, entities — typically universities or nonprofits — that federal agencies contract with to conduct R&D. FFRDCs provide their supporting federal agencies with R&D capabilities that could not otherwise be effectively completed by the federal government or private sector alone, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The Department of Energy (DOE) historically accounts for most of FFRDC funding. DOE provided about 51% of FFRDC funding in 2019 ($11.4 billion). By 2022, the funding rose to nearly 56%, or $14.5 billion.

The Department of Defense (DOD) accounts for the next largest share. DOD represented 22% of total funding from FY 2019–2021 before dropping to just under 21% in FY 2022. In terms of dollars, DOD’s funding of FFRDCs has increased from a little over $5 billion in FY 2019 to $5.4 billion in FY 2022.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) funds the next largest share. Like DOD, NASA has seen a decrease in its percentage of total funding. In FY 2019, NASA accounted for approximately 13%, before dropping to slightly over 10% in FY 2022. But, unlike DOD, NASA’s funding in dollars has decreased, dropping from $2.9 billion in FY 2019 to $2.7 billion in FY 2022.

Just four agencies — DOE, DOD, NASA, and Health and Human Services (HHS) — accounted for nearly 92% of all federally funded R&D expenditures at FFRDCs during FY 2022. These four agencies were also the only ones to finance over $1 billion each at FFRDCs in FY 2022.

Federal agencies provide significant funding for research and development but often focus on a small number of specific research centers. For example, approximately 91% of NASA’s expenditures to FFRDCs went towards the Jet Propulsion Laboratory; 79% of the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) went towards the Center for Advanced Aviation System Development; and 71% of HHS’ towards the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research.

In FY 2022, 10 FFRDCs expended over $1 billion on R&D, ranging from $3.8 billion at both Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories to a little over $1 billion at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Of these 10, six are primarily funded by DOE, three by DOD, and the last by NASA.

Five FFRDCs had over $500 million but less than $1 billion in R&D expenditures. An additional 12 had over $100 million and below $500 million.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Center for Nuclear Waste Regulatory Analyses had under $5 million in R&D expenditures. The Science and Technology Policy Institute and Green Bank Observatory each had around $10.5 million.

The above data tool allows for quick and easy visualization of FFRDCs by sector and funding agency, scaled by R&D expenditures. Clicking the “Sector” dropdown lets users view a single sector (e.g., University-Administered). The “Agency” dropdown narrows by expenditures from the major participating federal agencies.

Click here for the data used in this article.

NOTE: This article uses data from the 2022 FFRDC Research and Development Survey, published by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) within the National Science Foundation (NSF).

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