MIT Lincoln Laboratory is a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) sponsored by the Department of Defense. FFRDCs assist the U.S. government with scientific research and analysis, systems development, and systems acquisition to provide novel, cost-effective solutions to complex government problems.

To ensure objectivity and technical excellence, FFRDCs are organized as independent, not-for-profit entities, prohibited from manufacturing products, competing with industry, or working for commercial companies. They combine the expertise and outlook of government, industry, and academia.

Lincoln Laboratory emphasizes meeting the government's FFRDC goals of providing independent perspective on critical issues, maintaining long-term competency, retaining high-quality staff, sustaining strategic sponsor relationships, and developing technology for both long-term interests and short-term, high-priority needs. Lincoln Laboratory supports its government sponsors with a full spectrum of planning and concept development in specific research areas.

Currently, 42 FFRDCs work in the fields of defense, energy, aviation, space, health and human services, and tax administration. All FFRDCs are sponsored by government agencies with whom they work as strategic partners, but they are privately administered by universities and other not-for-profit organizations.