Well it lives for three more months anyhow. The House has, predictably, shortened the SBIR Reauthorization fuse recommended by the Senate and agreed to yet another Continuing Resolution. The new "drop dead date" for the SBIR program is January 31, 2010.
But, it'll get settled before then. Probably by year end. And probably tucked into an Omnibus Appropriations Bill. And that could mean that it might emerge as a monster nobody loves.
My friend Rick Shindell and I talked about this yesterday, and his SBIR Insider issue from last night reflects on the situation. You can read the basic facts (courtesy of Rick) on http://www.sbirreauthorization.com/, but here's some interesting insights, also courtesy of Rick:
Just so you don't feel slighted, CRs are not the sole domain of SBIR. Actually Congress just passed a much bigger and more important CR today, the one that funds the government and keeps it running! It too was set to expire on October 31, but the new CR will keep the government funded through................ December 18, 2009. The CR was part of H.R. 2996; Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010.
The relationship of this to SBIR is that Congress has a lot to do before the end of the year. They go home early for Christmas, so the December 18 date is "drop dead" for finishing and passing the remaining 7 (out of 12) appropriations bills that fund the government. Although Congress wants to address each of the remaining 7 bills individually, it is most likely they'll fail and the tool to fix everything will be an end-of-the-year omnibus bill.
By now you're familiar with the phrase "too big to fail" (i.e., AIG, GM et al.), well the same is true for the end-of-the-year omnibus bill. Historically all kinds of items are slipped into these "must pass" bills. Is it possible that SBIR reauth may be one of those? Could it be used to "sneak" some unpopular small business items into law? It's been tried before.
I think Rick is right on point here. I believe that SBIR Reauthorization will be accomplished by year end. But, just as with Dr. Frankenstein's monster, extra parts may get attached just beacuse they were available. We won't much like some of the provisions that latch on, like leeches, to the program.
My gut-feel predictions (not supported by any inside information):
- Non-individual majority owned companies will get SBIR eligibility -- with some limitations and restrictions.
- The funding caps will be increased, but not by as much as the House wants.
- The funding base will also be increased, very slightly and over time, but not enough to compensate for the increased caps. The result: fewer awards.
- Phase I will still be required, but Fast-Track will be enhanced.
- Proposal evaluation cycles will be shortened.
- Multiple Phase IIs (and follow-ons for further development) will be permitted.
- Support for Phase III (commercialization) will be expanded for all agencies -- and all agencies will place increased emphasis on commercialization potential as a criteria for award.
- Required inclusion of projects for some critical technologies will be specified.
- Special award preference for some non-technology demographic interests (including veterans) will be included.
- The policy and oversight authority will be a Committee co-chaired by NIST and the OSTP.
- The SBA's Office of Advocacy will continue to be able to comment on SBIR issues.
- Money will be authorized for SBIR administration and award database maintenance.
- Reauthorization will be for five years or less.
Will the SBIR Program still be effective? Yes. Will it be harder for a lone-wolf inventor with a good idea to get funded? Yes. Will some non-small business interests use the new rules to get access to the funds. Yes. Will promising technologies get seed funding via SBIR? Yes. Will the national interest be served by the new rules. Yes.
And that's the bottom line. SBIR is good for this country. It promotes entrepreneurship. It contributes to the innovation economy. It should survive. But, it won't be perfect. And that's OK.
SBIR is not an entitlement. Nothing in the Constitution says that the government must provide opportunity for small businesses to develop innovative technology. Any awards must be earned. And decisions on who gets funded will always be subjective. As Walter Cronkite would say, "That's the way it is."
Times are changing. The SBIR program must change with it. The strategies for winning awards will change. I'm actually writing a book that will help you formulate your winning strategies. Watch for it in the Spring.
So, enjoy handing out the candy entitlements to the costumed characters who ring your doorbell this weekend. And in honor of increased SBIR caps, if any Frankenstein monsters show up, give them a double ration!