Managing Research and Development Across Government Departments: The "Virtual Agency" Concept in the United States
27 Pages Posted: 5 Nov 2001
Date Written: August 2001
The virtual agency concept is now used within the United States Government to manage large research and development processes across departments. This paper examines the history of the virtual agency concept and its important characteristics. The paper identifies the potential benefits and associated risks involved in managing research and development within a virtual agency. Three cases are examined where the virtual agency concept has been applied to research and development programs in the United States: the High Performance Computing and Communications initiative, the Next Generation Internet, and the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles. The case studies indicate that the research and development process is attempting to balance formal process controls with the agility to adapt rapidly to new research opportunities. Virtual agencies can be used to improve organizational efficiency, improve knowledge transfer, increase interoperability through standards, provide better alignment of agency missions with national policy, and introduce increased flexibility into the research and development process. At the same time, the virtual agency concept has major risks including inefficiencies due to organizational complexity, the danger of collective myopia, the problem of adopting standards too early, the difficulty of reaching objectives in a loose organizational structure, and the problem of properly balancing the tension between agency mission objectives and national policy agendas.
Keywords: R&D Organizations, "Virtual" R&D, Government R&D, Alliances, Cooperative R&D, Technology Policy
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