Government researchers are still in the ‘academia’ game in that they want to publish papers and discover and invent cool shit. People and organizations are all playing some game that has different ways of gaining status and power
Government researchers have both less freedom and more freedom than university researchers. If they can justify how their research is aligned with the higher-level missions of the organization, they don’t need to spend time writing grants or teaching like professors in universities. Professors do three or more jobs. The need to spend the majority of their time on organizationally aligned research means that they can’t do super crazy things. Additionally The people setting research priorities at AFRL are often not technical, which is another constraint that may kill promising projects.
Research at national labs is perceived by people in academia as being lower impact than at universities. University professorships are the highest status jobs in academia. The lower impact is because their research needs to align with the department they are part of. (Innovation orgs need to be aligned with their money factory. This creates a feedback loop where the really good researchers don’t work at government labs and the phenomenon of A players hire A players and B players hire C players happens.
This whole story is so similar to §Corporate R+D Constraints, I would go so far as to say that government labs are basically tax-payer funded Corporate R&D. Government research is corporate R&D for United States Inc.
Questions about the orgs: