Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The story behind the DOD's 6AM SBIR proposal submission deadline

Well, I'm sitting here in my LaZ-Boy recliner, my laptop in my lap, sipping my coffee in the pre-dawn darkness, and reminiscing about what happened six years ago this week. The DOD's winter SBIR proposal cycle just closed an hour or so ago, and I successfully accomplished the final upload of a client's 3rd version of the final draft of their proposal just a few minutes before the 6AM EST deadline. (The things I do for my clients!) Ever wonder why the DOD has a 6AM deadline? It's quite a story...

Back in 2003 the DOD had a 5PM EST deadline for SBIR proposal submissions. The DOD's electronic submission website had been enabled just a year or so earlier, thankfully eliminating those dreadful red-form paper cover pages (remember those?). Of course, everyone always worked right up to the deadline, causing intense pressure on the DOD's network resources and slowdowns as the deadline approached were common. The DOD's instructions included a warning that early submission was recommended. They thought that covered them.

I was working with a client on an Air Force proposal that January afternoon in 2003 as the 5PM deadline loomed. We finished around 3PM and tried to upload the proposal. No response. The site had crashed. The help-line was ringing busy. Talk about frustration! In desperation, as 5PM was just a few minutes away and the site was still down, we finally emailed the proposal to the Air Force's Topic Group Program Manager to time-stamp it, but that wasn't an official way to do it, and we knew that the proposal would probably not be accepted that way.

The next morning I called Ivory Fisher, then the DOD's SBIR Program Director, to ask what they were going to do about the situation, and was informed that their warning advising early submission was sufficient. Nothing needed to be done. Tough luck. Sadly, I predicted that he'd soon be in the middle of a storm of protest. I was right. The firestorm eventually drew Senator Ted Kennedy into it, and the DOD was forced by Congress to re-open the solicitation for three weeks in March to allow the submissions that were prevented by the site crash. Unfortunately that delayed the evaluations and awards, punishing those who had submitted early! Ivory retired soon after, for health reasons unrelated to the angst created by the problem.

My friend Jeff Bond (he had directed the BMDO's SBIR program previously) was appointed to succeed him as the DOD SBIR chief, and he was charged with fixing the system. In addition to increasing the submission site's network resources (I call it enlarging the funnel), he implemented the absolutely brilliant idea of moving the deadline from 5PM to 6AM! That effectively ensured that everyone wouldn't be clogging the funnel at the same time. It works! In the past six years I've only helped a client work to the 6AM deadline twice. Most of the time we finish by the end of business the previous day (or even earlier) without any pressure at all. Thank you Jeff!

By the way, Jeff retired from government service a few years ago and is now Grant & Proposals Director for the Association For Manufacturing Technology ( Any of you who are in the manufacturing arena should join this organization and enlist Jeff's counsel if you're desirous of learning about relevant funding opportunities. Give him my regards when you call him.

Time for another cup of coffee.....
NOTE: The January Issue of the SBIR Coach's Newsletter will be available by clicking on the following link: SBIR Coach's Newsletter - Jan-2009.

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