5 Ways to Manage Federally Funded R&D Portfolios in an Uncertain Political Climate

In an article for Defense News, Navigant offers guidance on navigating frequent changes in leadership, budget, and research prioritization

An uncertain political climate has some wondering about the future of research and development, particularly for national security and defense agencies. While the proposed 2018 budget includes a $52 billion increase over current U.S. Department of Defense spending, the specifics of how that funding will be applied to science and technology remain vague.

“In R&D, the long game is critical. The advances seen today are based on decades of scientific and technological investments often supported by federal resources and their ability to integrate technologies across multiple disciplines,” says Russell King-Jones, director at Navigant, in an article for Defense News. “In the current political environment, where the focus appears to be on the near term, R&D managers will be faced with the difficult question of how to balance their investments to meet the current leadership focus while preserving a research pipeline in emerging areas.

Offering guidance on this responsibility, King-Jones identifies five strategies to successfully navigate the frequent changes in leadership, budget, and research prioritization in order to manage federally funded R&D portfolios:

  1. Fast to fail. Program managers should be encouraged to focus a set amount of investment on higher risk areas and be rewarded for terminating programs earlier rather than later.
  2. Mission alignment. Successful strategies in this area result from frequent training, disciplined new-start approval processes, and periodic assessment of the degree of alignment between the portfolio and mission objectives.
  3. Communications and outreach. Success stories, transitions, capability highlights, collaborations, and high-profile programs should all be professionally documented and distributed through appropriate internal and external communication channels.
  4. Retention of institutional knowledge and lessons learned. Mitigate disruption through disciplined program and process documentation, centralized data management systems, and succession planning.
  5. Institutionalized assessment processes. R&D portfolio assessment and monitoring processes should be transparent, structured, repeatable, aligned with strategic priorities, and linked to both personnel- and program-performance management criteria.

“With the current White House push to reduce funding of basic science and focus on later-stage science and technology, the superiority advantage is likely to erode further,” King-Jones adds. “At some level, it will be up to R&D portfolio managers to maintain the U.S. science and technology offset advantage through skillful balancing of investments against the near- and far-term, and low and high risk.”

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