An open question is the degree to which governments can do good technical research, either in-house or commissioned. Some possible ways in which this could be relevant:

  • Evals (although this likely could be contracted in a successful way) 
  • More straightforward technical research (do any other safety-research areas use this? Nuclear security and areoplane safety seem to be done by the private sector and the role the of government is creating good incentives here) 
  • The potential for governments to become the dominant actor in advancing towards TAI

Examples of governments (particularly US government) doing in-house or contracting technical research 

This list is not exhaustive–it’s just examples I happen to know about. 

Defense examples 

  • Sandia national lab, the US governments lab for nuclear weapons safety. Run by Lockheed Martin since the 1980s. Hires an extremely large number of electrical engineers
  • Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, and Oakridge national labs – develop US nuclear weapons 
  • DARPA – US government acting as a grant maker for science research. Extremely good track record. 
  • Cyber offence and defence work by intelligence agencies. My impression is that the US and the UK are 2 levels above private groups in cyberoffence and have a seemingly inexhaustible supply of zero-days. I’m unsure the degree to which this is done in house. 
  • Generic defence contracting for new, high tech military hardware. 

Regulatory agencies 

  • The EPA has a large in-house team of environmental scientists informing their regulatory policies. About half of their staff of the EPA are environmental scientists. 
  • The Fed has an extremely large in-house team of economists who do economics research, often for regulatory purposes. The Fed’s economists are considered amongst the best in macro and financial economics. 

Other US government 

  • US army corps of engineers. An unusual example since the military is such an unusual institution that does a very unusual about of in-house training with an unusual amount of market power over its technical staff. Also does engineering rather than technical research 
  • NASA. Independent agency of the US government. 
  • Department of Energy. Don’t know the specifics 
  • Cybersecurity department within the department of homeland security. Are quite poor. 

UK government 

  • NICE cost-effectiveness assessment of medical interventions for the NHS. Done in-house and my impression is that it is a very high-quality specific type of technical research which is statistics focused and reviews large numbers of existing medical research.
  • UK independent regulatory bodies. Notably different from the rest of the UK civil service which, hire generalists, these organizations hire specialists, and these individuals stay in their areas rather than moving around regularly as is done in the rest of the civil service 
  • The NHS does lots of biomedical research. Unsure how much of this is in-house. 

 Some patterns that emerge 

  • Defence dominates government technical research 
  • Reasonable balance of in-house and contracting. No obvious pattern in which is more successful.
  • Some bias towards independent agencies doing more and better technical research. Particularly notable in the UK where there’s such a generalist focus in the civil service. 
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I upgraded strongly on the competence of the U.S. military-industrial complex. The development and deployment of the F-35 Lightning by Lockheed Martin, under the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program, stand as a testament to the success of government contracting in complex defense projects.

Despite the barrage of criticisms and doubts surrounding the JSF program—ranging from its perceived financial imprudence to its operational viability—the F-35 has emerged as a remarkable technical and military achievement. Critics often highlighted the program's excessive costs, questioned the aircraft's maneuverability, and debated its cost-effectiveness compared to fourth-generation fighters. The Air Force's emphasis on stealth technology was mockingly dismissed as an overindulgence in high-tech gadgetry.

Indeed, the JSF program, with its budget exceeding one trillion dollars and notable delays, faced significant challenges. These were, in part, due to the ambitious engineering advancements it pursued. However, the narrative has shifted, recognizing the F-35 as a superior aircraft. Its per-unit cost, now aligning with that of fourth-generation fighters at 75-90 million dollars, and its operational capabilities, particularly in stealth, highlight its value. The F-35's stealth technology, reducing its detection range to 20-30 miles compared to the 100 miles or more range of standard air-to-air missiles, gives it an enormous advantage over non-stealth fighters. And infact, in military exercises, where the F-35 demonstrated a 20:1 kill ratio against fourth-generation fighters.

The global military community's growing preference for the F-35 over its European and Russian counterparts, along with China's efforts to replicate its technology, further underscores its strategic importance.* While acknowledging the JSF program's cost overruns and delays, I think the overwhelming tactical edge provided by stealth technology would justify its expense in the context of hopefully hypothetical conventional future conflicts. **

*The JSF plans were stolen by Chinese spies. Though a significant security breach, it does not detract from the program's engineering successes. 

** Yes, nukes are a thing. As is military propaganda. Let us hope none of these gadgets will ever be tested. 


Perhaps also NIST and BEA (less sure here) fit your target.