Improvements in R&D center management recommended

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GAO Report

Agencies should create a formal way to share best practices for managing federally funded research and development centers, the Government Accountability Office has recommended.

In a report released today, GAO said although the four agencies it surveyed acknowledged the potential benefits of sharing experiences in managing the centers, there is no formal mechanism for sharing experiences. The federal government spent $13 billion or 14 percent of its research and development expenditures, on 38 centers in 2006 on the centers, according to GAO. The centers perform specialized research in a variety of areas including nanotechnology, military space programs, biodefense and microelectronics.

GAO also recommended that the Homeland Security Department and the Health and Human Services Department, two of the agencies that run the centers, review and revise the their conflict-of-interest policies for the centers to ensure they specifically address research center employees in a position to make or influence decision making.

The centers play an increasingly important part of the government’s research and development strategies, and funding for the centers’ research and development rose steadily from 1996 to 2005, according to GAO. DHS plans to soon launch a new center focused on systems engineering, including information technology systems.

GAO studied the Defense Department, the Energy Department, HHS and DHS, which together sponsor 29 centers. The centers were run by universities, nonprofits and private industry.

DHS and HHS agreed with GAOs recommendation that they review and revise their conflict-of-interest policies for the centers. DOD, Energy and DHS also agreed with the recommendation of establishing a forum to share best practices while HHS said it was considering participation in such a forum.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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