The Honorable Mark Dayton
SR-123 Russell Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Dayton:
The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is an independent nonprofit that investigates and exposes corruption and other misconduct in order to achieve a more accountable federal government. In light of this mission, POGO asks for your assistance in promoting integrity in government by prohibiting conflicts of interest that may arise in Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs).
There are approximately 36 FFRDCs, governed under the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) Part 35, Section 35.017, that work for federal agencies. These organizations, as their name suggests, receive federal tax dollars and provide information that steers policy decisions that ultimately impacts the security of our nation. The Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and seven other federal agencies sponsor FFRDCs and are steered by their findings and support. In fact, as we have recently seen, the findings of FFRDCs can, and often do, sway the decisions of executive and congressional policymakers. These decisions include appropriation of tax dollars, testing of satellites and weapons systems, and other crucial and sensitive matters.
FFRDCs claim to be independent from sources of influence other than the federal government. On multiple occasions, however, it has been revealed that a number of these organizations have board members and employees who are financially tied to federal contractors and subcontractors. These ties give the appearance of a conflict of interest, particularly when those ties are to a contractor or subcontractor being affected by that FFRDC's work.
POGO questions why FFRDCs fall under the same laws as contractors – which require little to no conflict-of-interests and ethics regulation – rather then the same conflict-of-interest and ethics laws and regulations which apply to federal employees. It is POGO's opinion that FFRDCs cannot be allowed to function as quasi-governmental agencies with no conflict-of- interest and ethics regulation. The government relies on FFRDCs for their independent opinions, and that independence can only be maintained if they are governed by federal conflict-of-interest provisions, including 18 U.S.C. § 208. We thank you for your leadership and commitment to improving the integrity of the federal government, and look forward to working with you on this issue. If you have any questions or need any other information, please contact me at (202) 347-1122.
cc. The Honorable John Warner
The Honorable John McCain
The Honorable Carl Levin