Best Practices:

Elements Critical to Successfully Reducing Unneeded RDT&E Infrastructure

NSIAD/RCED-98-23: Published: Jan 8, 1998. Publicly Released: Jan 8, 1998.

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Louis J. Rodrigues
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed a number of issues related to the federal government's research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) infrastructure, focusing on: (1) the condition of the existing infrastructure; (2) the approaches used by organizations outside of the federal government to realign RDT&E infrastructure; and (3) a comparison of those approaches to federal agency efforts.

GAO noted that: (1) the Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have attempted to reduce their excess laboratory capacity and associated costs, but could achieve even further reductions in their RDT&E infrastructure; (2) even though DOD will have closed 62 RDT&E sites and activities at host sites after implementing fully all four base realignment and closure rounds, a 1995 DOD estimate indicates the department still will have an estimated 35 percent excess capacity in its laboratories and an estimated 52 percent excess capacity in its test and evaluation centers in the air vehicles, electronic combat, and armaments/weapons areas; (3) while NASA closed a number of individual sites and facilities in recent years, it has yet to consolidate or close any of its major laboratory facilities; (4) all of the individual agency actions were taken independent of one another and have resulted in limited infrastructure reductions and cost savings; (5) little success has been achieved in attempts to consolidate federal RDT&E infrastructure across agency boundaries; (6) in recent years, corporate and foreign government organizations have restructured successfully their laboratory operations to achieve cost-saving efficiencies; (7) GAO examined restructuring efforts by two organizations, both of which reduced substantially their laboratories' infrastructure and costs; (8) officials responsible for those successful efforts identified five critical elements that were key to their success; (9) many of the elements that made the Boeing Company Defense & Space Group's and the British Defence Research Agency's laboratory consolidations a success generally are lacking in U.S. federal agencies' efforts; (10) in general, budgetary concerns have not, to date, created a catalyst to focus and redefine missions and then reduce the supporting RDT&E infrastructure within DOE, DOD, and NASA; (11) agencies are not collecting the information they need to assess the full scope and cost of their RDT&E infrastructure; (12) according to U.S. officials that direct federal RDT&E activities, in some cases resistance to inter- and intra-agency restructuring of RDT&E activities has stymied the thrust of recent streamlining efforts; and (13) balancing the federal RDT&E infrastructure with current and future missions is a complex problem that has proven intractable largely because of the limited scope of past efforts.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In section 912 of the National Defense Authorization Act for 1996, the Congress directed the Secretary of Defense to submit an implementation plan for reductions in the research, development, and test and evaluation (RDT&E) element of its acquisition infrastructure. DOD submitted its plan and has reported the specific actions taken to reduce infrastructure as required. According to DOD, these actions will reduce its RDT&E infrastructure by a total of $992 million (27 percent) by the end of FY2005. These required actions mirror most of the key elements of successful consolidations identified in the report. However, the Congress considered, but did not grant, base realignment authority, a key ingredient in reducing infrastructure across-the-board.

    Matter: To help craft a more efficient structure to support future federal RDT&E efforts, the Congress may wish to begin a process to reduce the federal RDT&E infrastructure that applies collectively the critical elements identified in this report. This process could be designed to look both within and across agencies to eliminate unnecessary mission overlap and duplication and the resulting excess infrastructure capacity. Lessons learned from the federal government's past uses of independent, external authorities could be used to provide structure to this process. Ongoing restructuring efforts of the agencies could be assessed for their potential to contribute to overall RDT&E infrastructure restructuring. The Research and Development in the United States database could provide preliminary inputs indicating possible duplication of effort. The Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 provides an established legislative framework, which addresses agencies' missions and performance, and may be useful in focusing specifically on crosscutting agency missions that determine the requirements for RDT&E infrastructure.


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