Created by on 3/14/2011 12:00:00 AM

Over the last few weeks the Senate has taken several steps in its ongoing quest to pass a long-overdue reauthorization of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. Both are currently operating under a temporary authorization that expires on May 31, 2011. At a hearing on February 16th, Senate Small Business Committee Chairwoman Mary Landrieu (D-LA) expressed frustration that the programs had been funded by short-term extensions since October 2008 and stated that adopting a comprehensive, long-term reauthorization bill as soon as possible was one of her top priorities. She also noted that in December 2010 the Senate passed and sent to the House a compromise eight year reauthorization bill that was endorsed by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the Small Business Technology Coalition, the National Small Business Association, the U.S. Chamber of commerce, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and the National Venture Capital Association. That bill would have increased the SBIR “set-aside” to 3.5 percent.

Under the current SBIR program 11 federal agencies that provide more than $100 billion annually in extramural grants, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, must devote a minimum of 2.5 percent of their budgets to SBIR research funding. Since 2009, FASEB has led a coalition of nearly 100 groups from the university community, higher education associations, and patient advocacy organizations to fight attempts to increase the SBIR “set-aside,” arguing that it would redirect as much as $1 billion to a single research program at the expense of other national scientific priorities. In addition, raising the “set-aside” percentage would further erode NIH’s capacity to fund competitive investigator initiated grants at a time when funding levels for the agency are uncertain.

On March 4th, Chairwoman Landrieu, Ranking Member Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Scott Brown (R-MA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Mark Pryor (D-AR), and Carl Levin (D-MI) introduced S 493, a comprehensive SBIR/STTR reauthorization bill similar to the one that passed the Senate last December. S 493 includes the proposal to increase the “set-aside” to 3.5 percent. The Small Business Committee approved S 493 by a vote of 18 – 1 on March 9th. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) was the lone “no” vote. The bill is expected to be considered by the full Senate sometime during the week of March 14th, and FASEB will continue to work with the university community to oppose efforts to increase the SBIR “set-aside”.