14 Jan Billions with a B for R&D
MILWAUKEE – The United States government is planning to spend $127 billion dollars on research and development in the current fiscal year, ending Sept. 30. Those in charge of spending this multi-billion dollar river of R & D riches are looking for worthy projects; some are even desperately looking for appropriate projects to fund.
“Some of it will go begging. It always does,” said Gerald Martin a retired U.S. Air Force officer who now is an information technology project consultant to the Department of Homeland Security spoke at a recent Milwaukee chapter meeting of the Wisconsin Innovation Network (WIN) in Milwaukee.
“It’s their job to get this money out there,” said Martin, who is based in the Washington. According to Martin if federal R&D allocations are not invested, those responsible for not doing so very much expect that their funding in the next fiscal year will be cut by at least the amount that went undistributed. Use it or lose it.
Why is this important to Wisconsin? What is getting funded? What are the application procedures? It’s important to Wisconsin because the state consistently ranks among the five lowest-rated states in the return on federal taxes paid to the federal government. With no large federal facilities, such as military bases, operating in the state, getting federal R&D funding may be the best way for the state to improve the ratio of federal tax dollars outflow verses federal funds inflow.
In broad terms, projects that are getting funded are technologies and ideas that help win the war on terrorism, secure the U.S. homeland, and strengthen the economy. Somewhat more specifically, getting funded are those that sustain and nurture America’s science and technology enterprises; enhance access to excellent educational programs; focus on long-term and very high-potential pay-offs; maximize efficiency and effectiveness of federal R&D investments; promote collaborations among agencies, industry, academia, and the states; and strengthen international relationships.
Another way to understand it is to look at “Vision 2020: A Model Wisconsin Economy,” a technology development plan published by the Wisconsin Technology Council. The Tech Council is WIN’s parent organization.
“After I prepared my presentation, I read Vision 2020 and I said, ‘Wow, this is dead on.’ There’s at least a 75 percent match between what 2020 says are Wisconsin capabilities and what the federal government is looking to fund,” Martin said.
To find the actual specifics of what R&D the U.S. government seeks to fund, applicants need to drill down online or by networking.
To start cyber-drilling, Martin suggests three easy routes: One is to start at the National Science Foundation site (www.nsf.gov ) because it both can lead to many other agencies’ R&D needs as well as its own and it can show very clearly (though not necessarily concisely) how to undertake the application process. Another good start is www.firstgov.gov, he said. A third online start is to simply Google “federal research and development and start clicking through,” Martin said. Those chases should lead to the broad, fishing Requests For Information, or Requests for Sources for those with the specialty credentials for executing a contract, or the more concrete Requests for Proposals. But more importantly, the chase can lead to names: people in federal agencies who appear to be involved in applicants’ areas of expertise, staffers of members of Congress from Wisconsin or other states involved or interested in applicants’ areas of expertise, and consultants.
Networking starts with finding as many people as possible who can be entry points to the vast, complex network of people inside and outside the government who can lead to those responsible for federal R&D funds.
“Congressional staffers can work miracles,” Martin said. “It also doesn’t hurt that the head of HHS (Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson) is your former governor.”
“Whoever you contact ask them who they know who might be able to help. Then follow up right away and then stay after it. Write them. Go see them if you can. Call them again. Write them again,” Martin said.
“Applicants need to meet a need, need to be patient, need to persevere, and need to connect with people. There is no magic solution.”
About 56 percent of the $127 billion is for defense, 23 percent for health, 7 percent for space, 6 percent for general sciences, leaving 8 percent in thin slices for other agencies and purposes.
“But even those thin slices represent huge dollars,” Martin said. The arithmetic again: 8 percent of $127 billion equals about $10 billion.
This story was submitted to the Wisconsin Technology Network by the Wisconsin Innovation Network. Tim Cowling is an independent consultant to small businesses and other enterprises seeking to grow rapidly and member of the Wisconsin Innovation Network. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 414-881-7669. Martin can be reached at email@example.com.