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Unique agreement to improve technology for Department of Defense missions

  • Published
  • By Patty Welsh, 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs, and David Granchelli, MIT Lincoln Laboratory Communications Office

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – The Department of the Air Force and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology signed a 50-year lease agreement and contract modification to transition more than 64 acres and 22 buildings from Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., to MIT Lincoln Laboratory to enable modernization.

MIT LL is a Department of Defense-sponsored Federally Funded Research and Development Center, or FFRDC, that is operated by MIT as a public service on a no loss, no gain basis and provides research and development pertinent to national defense. The purpose of the new arrangement is to improve the execution of the FFRDC prime contract that is managed by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Strategic Services Division at Hanscom AFB.

“The lease greatly streamlines MIT LL’s ability to modernize their facilities and infrastructure by enabling them to use funding they collect as part of their rate structure to implement improvements without having to compete in the Air Force (military construction) process, which is very resource constrained,” said Scott Owens, Strategic Services director. “It’s difficult for R&D facilities to compete with hangars and operations centers.”

The Laboratory was established in 1951 in U.S. government-provided buildings on Hanscom AFB. While technology and the laboratory itself have evolved greatly since that time, many of the facilities are significantly outdated, with some even more than 50 to 70 years old. According to officials, the buildings do not meet current design standards for research facilities, and they can’t be quickly reconfigured to keep pace with the changes in requirements for conducting advanced technology research.

“This contract modification was the critical final piece necessary for the Laboratory to modernize facilities,” said Scott Anderson, MIT LL assistant director for Operations. “Senior DOD and MIT leadership recognized the need 10 years ago.”

When Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall was Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, and primary sponsor for several DOD FFRDCs, officials said he recognized the risk and need for this type of action and directed the DOD to make the modernization of MIT Lincoln Laboratory a priority.

Two laws needed to be changed, along with extensive planning and coordination across the Office of the Secretary of Defense and Air Force offices to make this happen.

According to Air Force Civil Engineer Center officials, who helped bring the agreement to fruition, the complex transaction was enabled by the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, specifically allowing the secretary of a military service to approve this type of transfer in the interest of national security. And Owens said the Section 2669 lease is an “innovative approach” that leverages the special relationship between FFRDCs and the DOD.

Hanscom AFB civil engineering officials said the lease process can often seem like a marathon due to the numerous actions required and coordination and negotiations it entails.

“In this case, despite being a brand-new authority for which no formal process existed, the collaboration between all Air Force organizations involved, as well as MIT LL, expedited the timeline from what could have been a multi-year process to completion in 15 months,” said Chuck Strickland, Installation Management Flight chief. “This is the enabler that allows MIT LL to proceed with their facility recapitalization.”

The actual paperwork was signed April 24.

“This transaction will provide additional responsibility, flexibility and agility to the Laboratory as it executes its research contract to meet the DOD’s advanced research needs,” said David Pronchick, special assistant for Operations in the MIT LL’s director’s office.

Other MIT LL officials noted the lease has both near- and long-term benefits for facility modernization and will create a path forward for the Laboratory’s initiative to upgrade existing infrastructure and build new facilities to ensure a state-of-the-art laboratory.

“The signing of the lease and the prime contract was the result of a truly collaborative effort by a dozen government agencies and MIT, and a mutual commitment to the importance of advancing technology for our service men and women in the interest of national security,” said Owens.