Competition within government-sponsored R&D: An effective tool for innovation or a recipe for waste and duplication?

Is competition between and within government R&D agencies a force for innovation and for achieving desired outcomes? Or does competition lead to waste, duplication, and unproductive rivalry? The answer is: it depends. Competition can be a powerful tool leading to desired outcomes if the system of incentives and rewards is structured appropriately. Competition is ubiquitous within the Federal R&D enterprise, and should be examined systematically in order to identify and apply lessons for achieving R&D objectives more quickly and efficiently. Under what conditions might competition serve the greater good and under what conditions might competition serve primarily the interests of the agencies in question?

This presentation will draw on diverse examples of competition within and between government R&D agencies and private-sector R&D entities or that involve directed competition between government and private sector R&D actors. Brief case studies will be presented examining the impact of competition on technological innovation: between the Livermore and Los Alamos laboratories; among NIH, DOE, and Celera in mapping the human genome; and on NASA’s compete-and-cooperate approach to Space-X.