Governments charge their conservation agencies to safeguard biodiversity through protected areas and threat mitigation. Increasingly, conservation management and policy need to be supported by rigorous evidence provided by science. As such, institutional arrangements should consider and enable effective scientific research and information dissemination. What role can in-house agency research play in responding to this challenge? We examined the research capabilities of three conservation agencies from Australia, South Africa, and United States. Seven indicators were used to characterize the reliability and relevance of agency research. We found similarities among agencies in their patterns of peer-reviewed publication, cultures of research collaboration, and tendencies to align research with organizational objectives. Among the many and diverse activities that constitute the role of a contemporary agency researcher, we emphasize two key research dimensions: reliability, achieved through peer-reviewed research output, and relevance, achieved through active stakeholder engagement. Amid increasingly challenging realities for conservation of ecosystems, agency science functions are vital to providing the evidence base required for effective management and policy development.