Comments on Pending SBA Policy Directive
Thoughts and Compromises to the SBA Policy Directive
Mr. John Davis
SBIR Resource Center™
August 6, 2002
After considering the SBA Policy Directive itself, the various comments offered and the letters on the agency partner/subcontract issue from the Greenwoods and Dr. Busch, (both are parties for which I have a lot of respect), I have determined that my opinion lies somewhere between the two views. So, one asks, why bother to write this if my opinion is neither hot nor cold? Actually my opinion is "hot," but is supportive of both opinions at the same time; also I would like to offer a suggestion.
As Dr. Busch points out, there is more than just a potential appearance of impropriety in the current practice. There is a very real opportunity for mischief that needs to be curtailed. Most of the firms with which we (the SBIR Resource Center™) have worked would agree with him on that point. On the other hand, most of those same firms would recognize as valid the points made by Jim and Gail Greenwood that there appears to be few, if any, instances of such being a real-world problem. They would further agree that the opportunity to employ the unique resources of the Federal Government (paid for by their own tax monies) to aid the economic development of their firms, and thus their communities, should be preserved. This is especially true, since the alternative CRADA vehicle is just too expensive (lawyers, co-funding, etc.) for individuals and the micro firms that are traditionally accommodated by SBIR.
I, too, would agree with both views. Therefore, I would offer my opinion that the PD is moving the program in the right direction, however, it goes a bit too far. If the PD were to be worded so as to make it difficult for any agency to use SBIR funds awarded from itself, but leave as valid the use of SBIR funds awarded by another agency, then both the appearance of impropriety and the opportunity for mischief would be substantially reduced, if not totally eliminated.
Now, it seems to have become the practice in Government to spend, or cause to have spent, whatever time, energy and funds are deemed necessary to TOTALLY eliminate the possibility of negative outcomes (contractors enriching themselves, politicians colluding with bad guys, etc.), via the institution of burdensome laws and policies. Thus, we have become accustomed to "swatting the fly with a sledge hammer," no matter what damage may befall. I view the PD wording "back to the issuing agency, to any other Federal Government agency, or to other units of the Federal Government" to be just such a practice. However, if just the first part, "back to the issuing agency" were to be retained while eliminating the rest of that sentence, then the appearance and possibility of mischief would be greatly reduced (a positive outcome). Such wording would also preserve the possibility of small businesses acquiring the needed support from other agencies of the Government (another positive outcome). While this wording may not totally eliminate all possibility of a negative outcome, it would still be a considerable improvement, to a reasonable degree, without overdoing the policy response. If, in the future, it could be demonstrated that the incremental change suggested had not proved enough to deter questionable practices, more stringent language could then be introduced.
Although mine clearly lies between the two respected opinions, I do feel strongly about this and can represent to you that many of the CEO's of the hundreds of firms that we have supported on SBIR applications would feel the same. I appreciate the SBIR Gateway for providing this open forum opportunity to comment on the new policy issue.