This study provides the first quantification of buyers' role in the outcome of R&D procurement contracts. We combine together four data sources on US federal R&D contracts, follow-on patented inventions, federal public workforce characteristics, and perception of their work environment. By exploiting the observability of deaths of federal employees, we find that managers' death events negatively affect innovation outcomes: a 1% increase in the share of relevant public officer deaths causes a decline of 32.3% of patents per contract, 20.5% patent citations per contract, and 34.3% patent claims per contract. These effects are driven by the deaths occurring in the 6 months before the contract is awarded, thereby indicating the relevance of the design and award stage relative to ex post contract monitoring. Lower levels of self-reported within-office cooperation also negatively impact R&D outcomes.