“When Does the Private Sector Make Use of Public Labs? New Data on Work for Others Agreements in the Department of Energy”

Friday, 3 July 2015: 2:15 PM-3:45 PM
TW1.3.01 (Tower One)
Matthew R. Keller, Department of Sociology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX; Southern Methodist University
The value of the Department of Energy (DOE) -owned national laboratories to the U.S. national innovation system has long been a subject of robust debate. Advocates have drawn attention to the central role of the labs in the development of technologies including advanced batteries, solar energy breakthroughs, imaging technologies, and various IT endeavors, among other fields. Critics have, for the last several decades, recurrently suggested that the labs’ innovative capacities have been undermined by a lack of engagement with commercial firms and managerial tactics. Perhaps surprisingly, what has often been missing from the debate is a thorough review of data on the public-private partnerships in which the labs engage with private firms. This research note draws on heretofore non-public data on one kind of these contractual arrangements – Work For Others (WFO) agreements – in which the labs perform contract work for private firms. I review 10 years of WFO data for a single, mid-sized DOE laboratory. The analysis provides an initial picture of the surprisingly diverse array of firms that employed the labs as contract R&D providers, and of key characteristics of these agreements. Although the data encompasses only a single laboratory’s agreements, the findings reinforce the importance of encompassing investigations of the diverse public-private relationships within the federal system.