Government Owned/Contractor Operated Heritage

Industrial, academic, and nonprofit organizations have historically managed the U.S. Department of Energy national laboratories and other major government owned/contractor operated (GOCO) facilities.

A GOCO partnership allows each partner to perform duties for which it is uniquely suited: the government establishes mission areas, and the private sector implements the missions, using best business practices.

Historical perspective

During the Manhattan Project, the federal government asked the University of California to operate what is now Los Alamos National Laboratory. A new model for managing R&D labs was born: the government owned the laboratory site, the buildings, and the equipment; the University provided the employees and managers.

The GOCO model has been replicated many times in the subsequent decades, primarily within the DOE and its predecessor agencies. Sixteen of the seventeen DOE laboratories are GOCO institutions. Sandia National Laboratories has been managed by Sandia Corporation since 1949. Originally a wholly owned subsidiary of Western Electric, Sandia Corporation has been a Lockheed Martin company since 1993.


GOCO allows proven private-sector processes to operate without bureaucratic restrictions. Scientists and engineers performing for a GOCO contractor are largely insulated from political pressures. Thus, they have the independence to speak out as honest brokers, acting truly in the national interest.