Friday, March 6, 2009
SBIR Exclusion From NIH Stimulus was even more underhanded than we thought!
[THIS STORY HAS EVOLVED SINCE THIS POSTING. SENATE TELLS NIH TO FULLY FUND SBIR DESPITE THE EXCLUSION.....READ THE POST OF MARCH 10th FOR THE STORY!]
The campaign is working folks! Everyone is incredulous that such a counter-productive restriction would have been made in these politically charged times, effectively excluding ARRA Stimulus money from small business, the ONLY sector of the economy that's currently creating jobs! And they're angry that it was intentionally done in such a manner as to escape scrutiny.
But you haven't heard anything yet. My original posting on this only scratched the surface of the underhandedness. It was even worse than we thought. I suggest that you take your blood pressure meds before reading any further.....
I gleaned a very disturbing fact today: The version of the ARRA Stimulus Bill that was engrossed (that's the term for being voted on and passed to the next step in the process) by the House, and the version that was amended and engrossed by the Senate, DID NOT CONTAIN THE NIH SBIR EXCLUSION CLAUSE! That means that when your Representative and Senators voted on this bill, SBIR and STTR were, as they should have been, a part of the NIH's Stimulus funding to the tune of some hundreds of millions of dollars in new projects for worthy small businesses.
The engrossed Bills differed in some minor elements, including the amount of money that the NIH was to receive, so they were sent to a Conference Committee (five Members each from the House and the Senate) to have the differences resolved. The Committee did its business and produced the final copy of the now enrolled Bill for the President's signature. Guess what!
THAT FINAL COPY, AND ONLY THAT FINAL COPY, DOES CONTAIN THE NIH SBIR EXCLUSION CLAUSE, and the President signed it into law, thereby taking away, without a vote, the money for those SBIR and STTR projects that effectively had been authorized by your legislators.
Check it out for yourself. All of the versions of the Bill can be found at: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h111-1. Look at each version. (To find the pertinent section, search for "HIV". It turns out that that term only appears in the same paragraph as the one that contains (or doesn't yet contain) the SBIR exclusion clause.)
When I was alerted to this, I was momentarily speehless. (Those of you who know me know how unusual that is!) I couldn't believe that anyone would have the guts to try such skulduggery and that the rulebook would allow this. So I did some research. They did; I'm not sure if it does; but that's indeed where and when they did it!
What about the Rulebook? According to the official government document "How Our Laws Are Made", Conferees are limited in their authority to make substantive changes: "Furthermore, they may not insert new matter that is not germane to or that is beyond the scope of the differences between the two Houses." Does this exclusion clause qualify as being germane or within scope? I'll leave it up to the legal eagles among you to weigh in on that. But what's done is done. The question now is how to best undo it, or at least undo the effects of it.
The legal eagles can advise us on what would need to happen to get this exclusion lifted, either by an action of the Congress with some sort of Bill, or by the President himself with an Executive Order. I just don't know what our next step should be in a procedural sense (someone please help me on this), only that we shall not sit by and let this stand unchallenged.
Of course, the NIH can choose to unilaterally undo this injustice and do the right thing by simply deciding to add an equivalent amount to what would have been newly authorized funds to their regular Allocation Base for SBIR and STTR, dust off those projects that scored well in recent evaluations but just missed the pay-line due to lack of funds, call up the companies, and issue the grants! VOILÀ! Instant stimulus. Shovel-ready job creation, as they say. What about it NIH, y'all up to doing the right thing? Legally you can do it. So please just do it!
OK, the list of suspects in our whodunit has suddenly gotten much shorter. Call in CSI. The ONLY people who could have introduced that clause into the bill were in that Conference Committee room. Who were the Conferees? Here's a source of that information: http://neinuclearnotes.blogspot.com/2009/02/stimulus-bill-conference-committee.html. [Hmmm.... Seems that Senator Specter wasn't on that Conference Committee, so our previous information may have been incorrect, and, if it turns out that we were wrong, and he had nothing to do with this, we hereby apologize to the Senator for that.]
All right, will the real culprit please fess up? Unlikely. Probably not even CSI can solve this crime. These sneaky-snakes tend to cover their tracks too well and close ranks when challenged. But someone in that Committee room did this, probably at the request of some misguided individual high up in HHS/NIH who thought they were doing something in the best interests of their Agency. At least I certainly hope it wasn't done maliciously. Frankly, at this point, I don't care who did it, just that the effects of it be undone.
I've been receiving lots of emails from people who want to know what they can do to help. Hits on this Blog and on my website's SBIR Reauthorization section are up more than tenfold from before this story broke. At least a dozen other Blogs and News sites have picked up the story and spread the word. It's almost viral!
So, let's keep up the pressure. Send out links to this Blog posting, including to other media. Send letters. Make phone calls. Armed with these new revelations we might get some attention from the right people, either in the White House, in the Congress or at the NIH, and turn this around.
And, one final word. That Continuing Resolution must still be secured. SBIR expiration is only two weeks away without it. The House Small Business Committee is the one that will introduce it, so focus on them. We hear rumors of a CR bill being prepared there, but nothing official has surfaced yet. I know it's a lot to ask, but please keep that pressure on too.
We shall persevere.
UPDATE - Sunday, March 8, 2009, 2:00 PM CDT:
An email letter addressed to the "Small Business Research Community" was sent out today by Jo Anne Goodnight, NIH's SBIR/STTR Program Coordinator, wherein the opportunity for small businesses to apply for grants in a new ARRA funded opportunity called "NIH Challenge Grants in Health and Science Research" was touted with the statement in bold face: Small businesses are eligible to apply for grants under this program.
Yes, Jo Anne, eligible, but competing with who else? You have to drill into the announcements a ways to see the list. Here's a shortcut. Among others, the eligible organizations include Public and Private Institutes of Higher Education, For-Profit Organizations (Other than Small Businesses), Not-for-profits of all types, and City, County, and State Governments. Hardly a level playing field! Good try NIH, but no cigar.
If you didn't get the NIH's email letter and would like a copy, write to me and I'll forward it.