The word from Washington is that getting the SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) Reauthorization passed prior to the current expiration date of March 20th is about as likely as the Cubs winning a World Series without a shortstop. In order to keep the program alive until Congress can get around to the reauthorization, a continuing resolution (CR) is needed to temporarily extend its life. In fact, the program currently lives on via CR life-support since the last Congress did not complete the reauthorization bill.
The SBIR Program was created by the Small Business Innovation Development Act of 1982. Every 7-10 years, the SBIR program must be “reauthorized” by Congress or it will cease to exist. Reauthorization was enacted in 1986, 1992, and 2000 and was slated again for September 2008; but, instead, the program was temporarily extended by CR to March 20, 2009.
In 2008, Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) House made a heavy-handed attempt at reauthorizing the SBIR program, and under pressure from the biotech lobby, a bill (H.R.5819) was strong-armed through the House Small Business Committee. A major point of contention was whether to allow companies that are majority-owned by VCs to be eligible for SBIR funding—currently they are not. In other words, the debate centered on whether to emphasize the “S” vs the “B” in the reauthorization act. To the consternation of the small business lobby, which was not allowed any input by the Small Business Committee, the bill passed and SBIR eligibility was extended to companies mostly owned by VCs.
Over on Harry Reid’s (D-NV) side of the Capitol, and under the leadership of Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee recommended a compromise bill (S.3362) that was supported by both the biotech and the small business lobbies. Despite this broad and bipartisan support, Reid never scheduled a vote on it and the 110th Congress adjourned without completing the SBIR reauthorization.
Both bills are now moribund and the SBIR program on its last legs unless another CR is passed. The 111th Congress will have to start from the beginning on a new reauthorization bill, but with other pressing matters on their minds, efforts to reconsider the reauthorization bill have not begun. Even if Congress began working on the bill today, it is unlikely that it would make it to Obama’s desk before the end of the year, several months after the program is scheduled to expire. Hence, another CR is urgently needed in order to avoid interruption in the SBIR program.
You are encouraged to contact your congressional representatives to urge them to take action to ensure that the SBIR program does not die from neglect. Here is a template of a suggested letter you might send to your Representative and Senators. If you are worried about the SBIR grant application you plan to submit soon, you might consider sending a letter to every member of the House Small Business Committee as well as to Senate Majority Leader Reid.
Tell them what an important “stimulus” the SBIR program is for business development and job creation. That ought to get their attention.
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