Friday, December 4, 2009

Tick...Tick...Tick...SBIR hangs in the balance

Are y'all as disgusted as I am?

Our leaders, elected on a campaign stressing openness, keep making inexplicable one-sided closed-door decisions further widening the partisan political gap.

We seem to be telling our enemies how long to hold on before we'll begin to walk away from the battlefield.

We hold a "Jobs Summit" excluding some of the most important job creation advocates because they disagree with the Administration's health care reform initiatives.

Our "overburdened" legislators take time to hold hearings on the embarrassing "Party-Crasher-Gate" while ignoring the economy-busting impact of "Climate-Gate".

A celebrity's melt-down suddenly becomes the most important news story of the year.

I could go on. But I won't. It's too depressing.

December 18th is only two weeks away. We'll see an Omnibus Appropriations Bill introduced at the last moment just before that date. Betcha there will be no time for debate -- let alone time for actually reading it. If it doesn't pass, the Government shuts down. That won't happen.

SBIR is very likely to be tucked into that pile. Supposedly there's a compromise being worked on. Behind closed doors. Of course. So the clock is ticking. Tick...Tick...Tick.

In the mean time, it's "business as usual" at many of the Federal agencies. That includes gathering SBIR proposals. DOD, NIH, DHS, NIST, NOAA, and even DOEd will be accepting applications this month. NSF and DOE just closed their cycles.

Accepting applications may not mean closing the deal on awards, however. If nothing happens soon, all SBIR but DOD's expires at the end of January. So the Agencies may delay actually committing to disburse funds. Oh goodie. Small businesses sure can afford to wait indefinitely. NOT!

So, yes, I'm disgusted.

I also feel helpless. My Texas Senators and my District's Congressman are all in the party being excluded from the closed-door sessions. They're already sympathetic and supportive of the Senate's version of SBIR Reauthorization. So I "preach to the choir" if I push. Those of you with a different situation -- PLEASE GET BUSY!

The presentations from the National SBIR Conference held in Reno last month have been posted on the Conference's website. Here's the link: ( These will only be available until December 18th, so go look and download anything interesting while you can. Be sure to look at my friend Mark Henry's talk on "Reviewing the Reviewers". You'll find my talk on "Evaluating Readiness for Funding" there too.

The folks at Boeing have released their interest list for the current SBIR topics in the NIST solicitation. Write me if you'd like a copy. I expect to see the Boeing DOD list any day now.

And, finally, please check out the Manhattan Declaration. I've signed it. It feels good to make a stand on principle.


Carl Nelson said...

The Omnibus Bill or any other appropriation is unlikely to forbid SBIR. Which means that the agencies are free to run SBIR without renewal authorization. They can accept any proposals they like; they just won't have a mandated minimum they have to spend on those proposals. If the agencies refuse to run SBIR without a mandate, what does that say about the claims that SBIR is so wonderful for technology. No doubt, it is wonderful for the companies that win free money for their hobbies, but helping marginally competitive companies shouldn't be the purpose of government programs.

Anonymous said...

"what does that say about the claims that SBIR is so wonderful for technology."

If the agencies refuse, it just represents the agencies' bias, derived from the bias of academic 'peer' reviewers, who want to have the exclusive right to funding their hobbies with free federal money.

Carl Nelson said...

Anonymous has an interesting slant but for most of the SBIR money it doesn't apply. The mission agencies with 75% or so of the money don't use academic peer review; they do it themselves. The peer review academics for NIH and NASA don't necessarily influence the agency's strategy, they just affect who wins in the programs that use peer review. Remember that Vannevar Bush's organizing principle of government research funding was peer review by the scientific community. NSF and NIH use peer review; the mission agencies DOD and NASA revere "relevance" and don't like surprises.

- Fred Patterson - said...

True, Carl, But the reality is that DOD has spoken: SBIR is worth keeping around! Unilaterally they've ensured its preservation by extending it via the Defense Appropriations Bill.

What's not generally known is that the DOD actually tried to get the Senate's full SBIR Reauthorization bill for all eleven agencies included in that effort -- and for 14 years! When the House Small Business Committee cried foul, a compromise was reached where only DOD was extended for one year. So obviously someone in the DOD considers SBIR's contribution relevant.

Carl Nelson said...

Fred, although the Congressional ASCs approved SBIR extension, do you have any evidence that the DOD has any great enthusiasm? There's always the acid test of the question - make SBIR voluntary. Oh, never mind, with a concentrated bunch of beneficiaries and a totally diffused cost, the politics are irresistible.