Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Key Senators join the call for NIH to "IGNORE" SBIR Stimulus Exclusion

We got some action! Perseverance pays off!

The Senate's Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee's Chairwoman, Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Ranking Member, Olympia Snowe (R-ME) joined my call for the NIH to effectively IGNORE the ARRA Stimulus Bill's SBIR Exclusion in a letter sent today to Charles Johnson, the Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the parent organization of the NIH.

The PR Newswire story about the letter can be viewed by clicking HERE.

The headline is:

Landrieu, Snowe Emphasize Importance
of Small Business Innovation
to Economic Recovery

The subtitle is:

Call on HHS to fund SBIR/STTR despite
exemptions in economic recovery plan.

Quoting from the letter:

"While the $8.2 billion allocated through Title VIII of the Recovery Act is relieved from specifically funding SBIR and STTR projects, the Act does not exempt the HHS from its continued statutory obligation of allocating a minimum of 2.5 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively, of its total extramural budget for research and development for SBIR and STTR projects. At stake is as much as $229 million."

"The SBIR and STTR programs allow small research and development firms -- our nation's innovation lifeline -- to create high-quality jobs and cutting-edge products and therefore are fundamental to our country's economic recovery. Consequently, it is of great concern to us that the NIH maximize the benefits of the Recovery funding and provide not less than the statutory percentages of the Department's extramural research and development funding to the SBIR and STTR programs."

All I can say is THANK YOU Senators Landrieu and Snowe, and the rest of the Senate SBE Committee. I know for a fact that, due to the letters that many of us wrote, some of you also had a hand in this.

The HHS has until March 24th to respond to the Senate Committee in writing. Frankly, I don't think they need two weeks to decide to do the right thing. I sugest that we keep the pressure on the NIH to respond quickly and favorably.

Of course, March 24th is after the March 20th expiration date, so we MUST get that Continuing Resolution to make this really be other than a hollow promise.

UPDATE, March 11, 2009: Check out Rick Shindell's SBIR Insider Newsletter of this date. It provides some more information on activities concerning the Continuing Resolution, and some additional background on the NIH deal, including an actual copy of the Senate SBE letter.


carl nelson said...

Yes, well maybe. In general, if Congress passes a law that recognizes and conflicts with an existing law, the new law governs. NIH may well read the letters as legally meaningless.

- Fred Patterson - said...

Ah, but there is a legal issue here -- as they say in their letter, just because the NIH is not supposed to use THOSE funds for SBIR doesn't relieve them of the obligation to fund SBIR as a percentage of their TOTAL extramural budget. The "new" law didn't change that. Pretty smart thinking to realize that, actually.

And, NIH may want to avoid the PR disaster they'd have by standing fast and thumbing their nose at both the Senate and the small business community. If they think we'll just stay quiet now that Uncle Sam (or is it Aunt Samantha) has spoken, and accept a "go fly a kite" answer, they're sadly mistaken!

carl nelson said...

Well, I can't speak for NIH, but DOD would not have been the least bothered by ignoring the SB community and its political machinations. BMDO, in particular, is famous for evading its SBIR quota. Part of my job was keep reminding BMDO's General Counsel to keep reminding BMDO's management of their legal obligation. Agencies dance to the tunes of their oversight committees, not communities of special pleaders, like SBIR advocates. If you want NIH to ignore the exclusion clause, you need to get to the oversight committee which may not be paying much attention to the SB Committee.

Jonathan Pearl said...

Perhaps it'd be most fruitful to consider "our" goals and "their" goals as converging, and finding that balance point, finding the middle ground where all parties benefit (rather than the classic view of compromise where all parties are unhappy)?

Here's my question: what is the resistance of NIH (assuming it comes from them) to support an additional $200 million in small business awards? (To be honest, I see it akin to the reason NIH routinely funds awards much higher than the nominal cap, thereby reducing the number of awards they need to administer).

It seems clear at least in part that the issue is a desire to evade an overload of (unfunded) administrative work. (This administrative argument was relayed to me by Chris Oechsli before he left Sen. Feingold's staff).

The issue then is really whether they can have the funding and resources made available to render it worth their while to administer more and smaller awards. I think that's an easily surmountable hurdle. Why not simply make it explicit that a reasonable portion of the SBIR Base Allocation can be used for administration?

Of course, there are those whose motivations are otherwise. There are those larger corporations or venture groups whose interest is to make available to themselves large sums of money, and a pot of $200 million is worth fighting for. In that case, transparency and openness is important.

Acknowledging the needs of the administrators is practical; Exposing the greed and shenanigans of others is warranted; Promoting the value of small business innovation is crucial.