Air Force Defends FFRDCs, Blasts Critics


Air Force Defends FFRDCs, Blasts Critics

By Neil Munro

Staff Writer

U.S. Air Force officials have rejected the recommendations of an advisory task force that commercial industry be allowed to compete for the $1.2 billion annually spent on the Pentagon's 11 federally funded research and development centers.

"We completely disagree ... [and] recommend that the Department ignore the recommendations of the task force and disband the group," according to a March 17 memo signed by Arthur Money, the Air Force's acquisition chief, and Gen. Thomas Moorman, the Air Force's vice chief of staff.

The memo, sent to Anita Jones, the Pentagon's research chief, also reiterated the Air Force's opposition to any industry buyouts of the nonprofit FFRDCs, such as the proposed purchase of the Aerospace Corp.'s FFRDC by Science Applications International Corp., San Diego.

"It's a shoot-the-messenger response," said Bert Concklin, chief of the Vienna, Va.-based Professional Services Council, an industry-funded group that has lobbied Congress to curb spending on the FFRDCs. Concklin said he had not seen a copy of the task force's closely held report, but said that he expected its members to recommend that industry be given some of the work now performed by the FFRDCs.

The FFRDCs are chiefly used by the U.S. Air Force, whose program managers rely on Mitre Corp., with offices in Bedford, Mass., and McLean, Va., as well as Aerospace Corp., El Segundo, Calif., to provide impartial and expert advice on satellite and communications programs.

Although Air Force officials are trying to better manage the FFRDCs, the centers are needed to provide a vital source of impartial advice to program managers, according to the Air Force memo. Both the Air Force and defense contractors expect "an independent, totally conflict-of-interest-free organization to support the government," said the memo.

But the advisory work can be performed by industry at less cost, without violating conflict-of-interest rules, said Concklin.

The task force was chaired by Gordon England, who recently became a vice president at General Dynamics Corp., Falls Church, Va. England declined to comment on the report or the memo.

Defense department officials declined to comment on the memo.

According to a draft of the task force's still-unreleased report, "the task force has concluded that the current system does not provide the best available service at the most reasonable cost."

The draft report urged that the FFRDCs be redirected to work on specific research projects that industry can't accomplish. Other work performed by the FFRDCs, such as providing expert advice on technology and acquisition to the managers of U.S. Air Force space and electronics programs, should be contracted out to U.S. industry, said the draft. "There are numerous other sources available to do much of the remaining work," said the draft.

"The task force expects that the governmental function of redefining the core capabilities ... will have the effect of significantly reducing the size of the FFRDCs," said the draft.

The panel, titled the Defense Science Board's Independent Advisory Task Force on FFRDCs and University Affiliated Centers, was established in November 1995 and was scheduled to deliver its recommendations to the Pentagon in March 1996.

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