Action Will Impact SBIR
February 9, 2004
Without formal announcement or explanation, the SBA has moved Maurice Swinton from Assistant Administrator for the Office of Technology (in charge of SBIR/STTR oversight) to Assistant Administrator for the Office of Management and Technical Assistance (7j and other loan programs). The SBA has appointed Edsel Brown (from the 7j program) to Mr. Swinton's position of SBIR/STTR management and oversight. This managerial swap is causing great concern within all facets of the SBIR/STTR arena.
The decision to reassign Swinton is especially troubling to many SBIR/STTR professionals, agency program managers, as well as SBIR/STTR supporters on Capitol Hill. Edsel Brown's background is in the 7j and other loan programs at SBA, but he has had no experience whatsoever in SBIR or STTR programs. Conversely, Maurice Swinton is very experienced, extremely knowledgeable and dedicated to the SBIR/STTR program. In Swinton's 10 plus years in this office (the last 4 as assistant administrator), he helped guide the process to save the SBIR/STTR programs, as well as provide quality oversight to help the them grow.
The SBA, House and Senate Small Business Committees, Small Business Technology Coalition, SBIR Gateway and many others are receiving strong comments against Swinton's reassignment.
Roland Tibbetts, designer and father of the SBIR Program, whose name reflects the highest honor in SBIR (The Tibbetts Award), wrote a very eloquent letter in support of Swinton and returning him to the SBIR program. Tibbetts' letter, addressed to the SBA stated "Maurice's performance in managing the program has been outstanding. He has been the best Administrator the program SBA has ever had and I have known them all quite well. He [Swinton] is the most knowledgeable, the hardest working, the best speaker, the best to work with and the wisest of all. He thinks carefully about problems and the program's future, acts promptly and gets an immense amount done from a minimal budget and a total staff of five for a nearly $2 billion program. In my many years of knowing him, I know of no criticism of any consequence."
U.S. Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) and U.S. Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT) wrote a letter to SBA Administrator, Hector Barreto, that stated "Mr. Swinton is widely acclaimed among our small business constituents and small businesses across the country for his high level of achievement and commitment in carrying out his SBIR and STTR Program oversight responsibilities. His experience with the SBIR and STTR Programs and relationships with the participating agency SBIR/STTR Program Managers uniquely qualify him to fulfill the oversight function. In addition, these federal agency SBIR/STTR Program Managers attest to the high quality of his work in leading the SBIR and STTR Programs at SBA."
Many others are weighing in on this reassignment. A long standing SBIR Program manger said "they are making a critical mistake." A small business SBIR award winner from a small rural state reflected, "We have contacted Mr. Swinton several times since he has taken office and found him to be exceptionally knowledgeable and helpful on matters of policy and procedure. He has been a champion of the small business community and has been vigilant and proactive to ensure that the intent of the SBIR program, as established by Congress, is being upheld uniformly and fairly by each agency."
Jere Glover, former judge advocate for SBA and leader of the Small Business Technology Coalition (SBTC), has issued an SBTC Action Alert, "Small technology companies are about to lose one of our most important advocates. But if we work together, we may be able to prevent it."
Chris Busch, long time SBIR advocate, and private sector advisor to several agencies, takes a very stern view of Swinton's reassignment. In a letter to the SBA administrator, and several important Senate Small Business Committee members, Busch states, "His [Swinton's] work carrying out SBA's statutory responsibility for SBIR Program oversight is widely recognized both by small businesses and among federal agency SBIR Program Managers…." "Maurice Swinton has done an extraordinary job in meeting these challenges, and true friends of small businesses and the SBIR Program recognize him for this work…." "His experience, dedication and commitment to the Program are badly needed at this point in time when serious challenges are being mounted against the program." Busch also feels that the SBA decision to reassign Maurice Swinton out of the SBA Office of Technology and replace him with a person with virtually no knowledge of, or experience with the SBIR Program conveys a strong and clear message to the small business community that the SBIR Program has low priority at SBA.
Eugene Watson, State of Wyoming SBIR outreach program, wrote to SBA, "This move is a major set-back to the SBIR program that Mr. Swinton has worked so effectively to build and protect during his tenure. I am certain that if you were fully aware of all of the circumstances behind this reassignment, you would immediately work to reverse this troubling event."
Robert Berger, former DOE SBIR/STTR Program manager wrote: "Mr. Swinton's essential accomplishment, which will not show up in any statistics or objective analysis, is the cooperation that he achieved among the 11 agencies that participate in the SBIR program. Ultimately, who benefits from this cooperation? Why, it is the small businesses that were targeted by the legislation that created and reauthorized the SBIR program -- the same small businesses that the SBA is charged with representing."
Rising to the Challenge
About 5 years ago when SBA's high profile SBIR/STTR manager Dan Hill decided to make a career change, the SBA was left with finding a suitable replacement to head the program. Immediately several federal agency SBIR program managers championed the cause to give Maurice Swinton a chance at the position. Hill's presence was that of a high powered politically savvy administrator, and some questioned whether Swinton, who had been in a supporting role to Hill and the program, would have what it takes to be a leader and administrator in this very complex and important environment.
One such person who initially questioned Swinton's ability to do the job effectively was none other than Roland Tibbets, the father of SBIR. In his recent letter to SBA, Tibbets recalled: "I was not an original supporter of his [Swinton's] appointment. But I was wrong and I compliment those who selected him for the SBIR position…." "No other SBIR Administrator has listened as well or has been as competent and dedicated to finding the best answers for the program."
With the initial support of some SBIR program managers, Swinton took on challenges to improve the program. Some of these efforts would raise issues that would be unpopular with some agencies and their program managers. The 2002 SBIR Policy Directive included a provision to ban agencies from subcontracting parts of SBIR awards back to the agencies. The DOE's program manger Robert Berger was opposed to such a ban and prepared to fight the issue. Although Berger and Swinton were in opposition on this issue, Swinton listened to the arguments and worked hard to hammer out a compromise that would satisfy both needs. On this front Berger writes, "The singlemost key to the cooperation that has existed under Mr. Swinton's tenure, is the interpersonal skill that he has brought to bear to attain this cooperation. By listening to agency concerns, by including them in the development of the most recent Policy Directive (in itself, a major accomplishment attributed to Mr. Swinton), by chairing frequent program manager meetings, and by fostering an atmosphere of mutual trust, all of the agencies have been able to improve their SBIR services to small businesses."
Swinton also realized that it was important to involve the states in the SBIR/STTR process. To this end Berger notes, "He [Swinton] has been instrumental in forming a partnership between the Federal administrators of the SBIR program and representatives of the 50 states that support the Federal government in its outreach to small businesses. He initiated regular meetings of state and federal representatives at each of the SBIR National Conferences, held at least twice yearly. He knows all of the state representatives on a personal basis. Again, it is the technology-based businesses of our nation that ultimately benefit."
Reason for Change
As of this time it is merely speculation as to why the SBA would want Maurice Swinton and Edsel Brown to swap jobs. In essence both parties are starting from square one on their new jobs. This is not only contrary to common sense, but it also is contrary to the White House and Congressional views of efficiency in government. In the letter to SBA from Senators Enzi and Burns, they state, "During this time of budget constraints, it is imperative that agencies maintain experienced personnel to provide quality oversight of federal programs. It is important that SBA employ available resources in the most effective and efficient way possible in administering the SBIR and STTR Programs. In achieving this end, we believe it is vital that SBA keep Maurice Swinton in his current position."
Possible Results of Change
Many important SBIR/STTR participants who have rendered assistance to the SBA in support of the various SBIR/STTR programs, have suggested that they will refrain from future volunteer participation in SBA SBIR projects if the Swinton reassignment is not reversed. There are no personal issues with Edsel Brown. However the fact that he is a complete novice in the SBIR/STTR program comes at a time when a strong well informed leader is necessary. The non-SBA volunteers feel betrayed by the SBA's actions and do not feel it is their job to train an SBA SBIR Program manager.
Perhaps most important is the fact that many federal employees involved in the technology sector are watching this scenario play out. The SBA appears to be saying that if you do a good job, give a 110% effort, satisfy the majority of people you work with, get accolades from the public, private and academic sectors, you will be rewarded with the opportunity to start over from scratch and watch your previous efforts be dismantled.
The last word is from Chris Busch's letter to SBA and the Senate Small Business Committee, which closes with: "The decision removing Maurice Swinton from the Office of Technology is a travesty for the SBIR Program, tech-based small businesses and America."
Hopefully the ground swell of support for Maurice Swinton will encourage the SBA to reconsider its decision.
You can let the SBA and the Small Business Committee know your feelings in this matter. For a list of email addresses and fax numbers, please send an email to: [email protected]
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