Created by on 12/19/2011 12:00:00 AM

A long overdue renewal of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs finally became a reality just hours before a temporary agreement that was funding both expired. SBIR and STTR have been operating under a series of “continuing resolutions” since 2008 when several congressional committees began a three year struggle to pass legislation reauthorizing the programs. After intensifying their negotiations over the last few months, House Small Business Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-MO) and House Science & Technology Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) announced on December 12th that they had reached a deal with the Senate Small Business Committee on a six year reauthorization of the SBIR and STTR programs. The legislation reauthorizing SBIR and STTR was attached as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (HR 1540) which passed the House on December 14th by a vote of 283-186. Senate approval came the next day via an 86-13 vote. Unfortunately the reauthorization increases the SBIR set-aside from 2.5 percent to 3.2 percent, phased-in over six years. Under the current SBIR program, 11 federal agencies that provide more than $100 million annually in extramural grants, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, must devote a minimum of 2.5 percent of their budgets to research funding for small businesses. Although it is less than the proposal to raise the set-aside to 3.5 percent over ten years (as proposed by the Senate), the increase to 3.2 percent will take place on a more accelerated path. The phase-in is as follows:

  • 2.6% in 2012

  • 2.7% in 2013

  • 2.8% in 2014

  • 2.9% in 2015

  • 3.0% in 2016

  • 3.2% in 2017

FASEB led the effort to oppose the SBIR set-aside increase since it was first proposed, working with other organizations in the research community to circulate letters to Congress that were signed by 100 scientific and professional societies, higher education associations, universities, and research institutions. The letters noted that although the research community recognized the benefits of having small businesses participate in scientific research, a mandatory increase in the SBIR allocation across agencies would necessarily result in funding cuts for other peer-reviewed research. Rather than increasing support for one program at the expense of others, FASEB and other groups urged Congress to work with the Obama Administration to increase funding for all science agencies, thereby raising the total investment in SBIR.

As the congressional committees worked to conclude their negotiations, FASEB organized another 
letter that garnered signatures from nearly 50 organizations in less than 24 hours. Many of the groups that signed the final letter wrote to FASEB to express their appreciation for the federation’s leadership on opposing the increase in the set-aside. Even though the outcome was not what the research community had been seeking, reducing the set-aside increase from 3.5 percent to 3.2 percent can be viewed as a partial victory and, it is a significant improvement over earlier proposals that would have raised the set-aside to five percent.