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FAQ: FFRDCS AND THE CENTER FOR NAVAL ANALYSES

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Q: WHAT IS THE CENTER FOR NAVAL ANALYSES?

A: The Center for Naval Analyses is a Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) that performs directed research and analysis for the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and other Department of Defense organizations. It is part of CNA, a nonprofit research and analysis organization based in Arlington, Virginia.

Q: WHAT IS A FEDERALLY FUNDED RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT CENTER (FFRDC)?

A: An FFRDC is a research organization that is dedicated to the mission success of a particular government department or agency sponsor. FFRDCs have long-term relationships with their sponsors that allow them to develop deep expertise and to work on research projects that may span decades and even anticipate issues the sponsor will face in the future. They are also on-call with quick-response capability when speed is critical, including in national emergencies. FFRDCs are established under contracting authority in Federal Acquisition Regulation, Part 35.

Q: HOW LONG HAVE FFRDCS EXISTED?

A: The military created the first FFRDCs in the 1940s and ‘50s. Many of them evolved from research groups formed during World War II to assist the armed forces. The Center for Naval Analyses began in 1942 as the Antisubmarine Warfare Operations Research Group, civilian scientists helping the U.S. Navy deal with the U-boat threat.

Q: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN FFRDC AND A COMMERCIAL CONTRACTOR?

A: Commercial contractors also conduct research for the government, but FFRDCs are different in several ways. FFRDCs have long-term contracts with their sponsoring agencies, and may not compete for other federal requests for proposals. FFRDCS are also prohibited from most commercial work and cannot manufacture or market products that the government uses. Under the Federal Acquisition Regulations, FFRDC contracts establish a “special relationship” between an FFRDC and its sponsor, including “access beyond that which is common to the normal contractual relationship to government and supplier data.”

Q: WHY ISN’T THIS WORK DONE BY FEDERAL EMPLOYEES?

A: Federal Acquisition Regulations stipulate that “an FFRDC meets some special long-term research or development need which cannot be met as effectively by existing in-house or contractor resources.” Many FFRDCs are staffed by highly-trained scientists. (70 percent of CNA analysts have Ph.D.s.) The regulations also highlight the importance of the “objectivity and independence” of FFRDCs. Analysts at FFRDCs can challenge conventional wisdom and current practices in ways that may be difficult for civil servants and military subordinates.

Q: WHICH AGENCIES HAVE FFRDCS?

A: There are 42 FFRDCs in total, with the largest number sponsored by the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy. Other agencies with FFRDCs are the Departments of Commerce, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Transportation, Treasury and Veterans Affairs, as well as NASA, the National Science Foundation, the National Security Agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Courts.

Q: WHO OWNS THE FFRDCS?

A: Nearly all FFRDCs are administered by nonprofit corporations, such as CNA, RAND and MITRE, or by universities. DOD-sponsored FFRDCs must be operated by nonprofit entities to prevent conflicts of interest.

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  • Publication Date: 8/16/2021