I’ve worked at federal research facilities for most of my career. I appreciate that many of you deal with the federal government to ensure that regulatory issues and processes are dealt with correctly. I know that dealing with the FDA consumes time and resources; it may seem like a never-ending struggle. I’m not in a regulatory branch, so I can only tell you what you already know—personal contacts—be they in the agency you deal with or “Beltway Bandit” consulting firms that file your paperwork—are the single most important aspect of getting through regulatory hoops.
On the research side, personal contacts can be just as useful but are underutilized. Part of the mandates of the USDA Agricultural Research Service, National Institutes of Health, NASA, and NOAA, for example, is to directly serve the people of the United States. As a citizen and taxpayer, you have a right to directly seek knowledge from researchers at these facilities (and others). Your request may be denied if you seek classified/sensitive information or wish to visit infectious disease laboratories, but otherwise you’d be surprised at how generous with their time and indulgent of requests most federal researchers are.
Most are honor-bound to answer emails, send documents, arrange for laboratory visits, and discuss research in person with just about any reasonable person. You can often get permission to record interviews and use them to train staff—for no cost!
If you come across an interesting research paper from a federal research facility, contact the first and last authors on the list—personally, not through LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. If you build contacts, you may be able to get small R&D issues and pilot experiments settled by piggybacking them onto existing research, taking advantage of pricey laboratory, support, field, and greenhouse facilities. For example, outside my office there’s a 1,500-gallon tank of liquid nitrogen just for one building’s instruments and detectors. You may also get help with patent/trademark issues, obscure chemistry, or pathogen identification.
When it comes to larger scale experimentation such as animal/human testing of supplements or ingredient toxicity studies, most agree that local universities are more flexible and easier to deal with. However, if you have established federal contacts, there are Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) that are simple to set up and cost as little as $10,000. The pharmaceutical and agriculture industries use these often. Lately, CRADAs involving organic farming and natural pesticides are in vogue. One excellent aspect of product development through a federal research CRADA is that the eventual regulatory process is facilitated because one agency deals with another.