SBIR Gateway
SBA Questioned on FAST and ROP
February 26, 2004

In an effort led by Senator John Kerry (D-MA), eight senators from the Senate Small Business Committee are expressing concerns about the SBA's proposed elimination of the Federal and State Technology Partnership (FAST) program and the Rural Outreach Program (ROP) for FY-2005.

FAST is a competitive grants program that allows each state to receive funding in the form of a grant, to provide an array of services in support of the SBIR program. The purpose of the FAST Program is to improve the participation of small technology firms in the innovation and commercialization of new technology, thereby ensuring that the United States remains on the cutting-edge of research and development in the highly competitive arena of science and technology.

ROP provides federal assistance to support statewide outreach to small high-technology businesses located in 25 states that are underrepresented in SBIR/STTR awards.

FAST and ROP Not Included in the SBA FY-2005 Budget

Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Conrad Burns (R-MT), Carl Levin (D-MI), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Evan Bayh (D-IN), and Mark Pryor (D-AR), have sent a letter to SBA Administrator Hector Barreto urging the SBA to restore FAST and ROP in their FY-2005 budget. The letter states: "These programs are critical to the cultivation of technology and high-tech small businesses through increased participation in the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs in rural and underutilized states. In the past, firms located in a relatively small number of states have been more successful in securing SBIR and STTR awards, but the FAST and ROP programs have helped small businesses in every part of the country compete effectively for SBIR and STTR projects. These awards not only provide R&D dollars to small high-tech firms, but they encourage technological advancement, improve overall productivity, increase economic growth and create jobs. Eliminating these important initiatives is unwarranted and unwise."

FAST and ROP in FY-2004

Originally cut from the congressional FY-2004 budget, FAST and ROP were reinstated at a reduced funding level in January, 2004. The effort to restore FAST and ROP was led by Jere Glover of the Small Business Technology Coalition, and supported by many SBIR activists as well as officials in various states who contacted their congressmen to urge for the reinstatement of FAST and ROP.

In spite of this effort, the SBA has not released an RFP for FAST or ROP funding and the Senators are clearly concerned. Their letter to SBA Administrator Hector Barreto states: "Second, we are writing to inquire about the status of the fiscal year 2004 request for proposals (RFPs), which have yet to be sent out by the SBA for the ROP and FAST programs. Any further delay could severely impede the ability of the programs' resource partners to reach out to rural America and help small R&D firms across the country to participate in the SBIR and STTR programs."

Leadership Change in SBA Office Causes Additional Delays
As noted in the SBIR Gateway article of February 9, 2004, "SBA Reassigns Maurice Swinton - Action Will Impact SBIR," Swinton's reassignment out of the SBA Office of Technology SBIR/STTR, has already taken a toll on the program. Swinton's replacement, Edsel M. Brown, Jr. comes from a much different area of SBA and Brown has no SBIR/STTR background or experience. Brown has to start from square one to build relationships with the various SBIR program managers and the people who have given their time in order to help the FAST and ROP programs to succeed.

Prior to his reassignment, Swinton had set a schedule for the FAST and ROP RFPs, and was building teams of SBIR program managers and SBIR experts from academia and the small business sector to do the reviewing of proposals.

The FAST reviewing process requires the participation of many SBIR experts outside of the SBA. Several people who have participated in previous FAST reviews have stated that they have nothing personal against Edsel Brown, but their time and resources are too limited to perform this complex task without expert experienced leadership that someone of Swinton's background provided. Some of these people, including some SBIR program managers believe that the SBA's recent actions show a lack of commitment to the program.

A copy of the letter to SBA is available here as a 386k PDF file. Letter to SBA

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