SBIR Insider Newsletter
October 19, 2011
In order to tell you what is going on with SBIR reauthorization, we must discuss the politics, this time, not for political junkies only. If you can suffer through the political portion, you'll have an increased understanding of the SBIR reauthorization problems, and how we can deal with them.
SBIR reauthorization is NOT a partisan issue, both parties tend to like the program, BUT they like (and need) money more. The excesses of campaign and party finances have brought about the degradation of our political system thereby diminishing the "well being" of our country and its citizens. Amongst other things, this has lead to the lowest approval rating of Congress in our history. It's possible now they will be more amenable to listening to you rather than dollars.
Perhaps we should look at ourselves as part of the cause. The simple fact is that the candidate with the most money in their election coffers, win 94% of the time. Sure we hear about the 6% because it is remarkable but all too rare.
Due to this 94% fact, both parties require their candidates to raise money not just for themselves, but for their party, so the party can put more financial support into candidates in tougher races, thereby trying to achieve a majority in congress.
Small businesses get a lot of "chin music" from congress, but at the core, (and behind closed doors) small businesses are not considered a good fund raising resource, so more attention goes to the larger, better funded concerns. This is especially true in the House with its 435 members.
Jurisdiction for legislation is related to a committee's mission, i.e., Armed Services, Small Business, Finance, Science, etc. The power is in the hands of the committee chairs and ranking members. More often than not, committee members fall into line with what their chair/ranking member wants. Then when the bill is brought out of committee to the whole House, the parties usually follow the lead of the their committee chair or ranking member.
Rock & Roll: That's what was so remarkable when the House democrats rolled (voted against) their ranking member of the Small Business Committee, Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) last May to pass the SBIR continuing resolution (CR) to keep the program going through September 30, 2011. That didn't happen by accident, it was the flood of calls that many representatives received from their constituents (you) urging them to pass the CR.
Exception to the Rule: The House Small Business Committee had it's chairs and ranking members in the back pocket of BIO and NVCA ever since former chair Donald Manzullo (R-IL) left in late 2006. On several occasions (including in the Congressional Record) Manzullo discussed the heavy lobbying and pressure tactics of those groups, (wanting to allow a small business to be majority owned and controlled by non-small business). Manzullo wouldn't cave to their pressure, and throughout his tenure as chair of the committee, Inc magazine rated him as one of the best friends to small business (for a variety of excellent reasons).
The total opposite is true for both Sam Graves (R-MO) the current chair, and Nydia Velazquez the ranking member and former chair. Both Graves and Velazquez have been fighting to give BIO, NVCA and some others, everything they want, and more. That's been the biggest sticking point in SBIR reauthorization.
If we look at the 2010 lobbying dollars for BIO and NVCA (as reported by The Center for Responsive Politics) we see the following lobbying contributions:
Biotechnology Industry Organization: $8,440,000
You're not going to see those kinds of dollars coming from the small business community.
For his personal election efforts, Mr. Graves hasn't had a serious election challenge since 2000. In 2010 he raised over $1M (73% from PACs) and his opponent could raise only $16K. Graves got 69% of the vote!
Velazquez also raises a lot of money but runs virtually unopposed every time. Why does she need the extra money? According to numbers provided in Marian Currinder’s book "Money in the House", a democrat who receives a leadership position on a lower level committee (such as small biz) must contribute $150,000 in dues to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and raise an additional $100,000.
The republicans aren't much different, so Graves must contribute a lot of money to his brethren as well. Neither Graves nor Velazquez can get the money they need from small businesses, but it's a piece of cake for the big boys, just give them what they want.
The Senate: The Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship (SBE) led by Mary Landrieu (D-LA) chair, and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) ranking member, worked tirelessly with their staff, small businesses, industry trade groups, state & local governments, and other stakeholders to strike a reasonable compromise bill that could be supported by the SBIR stakeholders. They accomplished this in their bill S.493 The SBIR/STTR Reauthorization Act of 2011. This bill also included many of the provisions (or compromises thereto) that were championed by the House Small Business Committee, including a generous amount for VCs.
The SBE's compromises were so carefully worked out in S.493, that it led to letters of enthusiastic support for passage of the bill by the Biotech Industry Organization (BIO), National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), Small Business Technology Council, and many others.
In a March 7, 2011 letter of support to Senators Landrieu and Snowe, BIO president and CEO James Greenwood stated:
"On behalf of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) and our more than 1,100 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations, I am writing in support of S. 493, legislation to reauthorize the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR) programs. This bill represents a balanced approach to ensure that America’s most innovative small businesses can access existing incentives to grow jobs by commercializing new discoveries."
On March 8, 2011, NVCA president Mark Heesen also wrote a letter of support to Landrieu and Snowe:
"On behalf of the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) and its members, I am writing in support of Senate passage of S. 493, the SBIR/STTR Reauthorization Act of 2011, which reauthorizes the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. This legislation represents a fair compromise to ensure that America's most innovative small businesses can once again have access to existing government incentives to grow jobs by commercializing new discoveries."
Unfortunately the Senate was not able to invoke cloture on S.493, largely because it was brought to the Senate under an open rule which allowed about 200 amendments to be offered to the bill, almost all of which were not related to SBIR. So the bill just sits idle in the Senate, but its language is available for future use.
In the House:, Two committees have oversight of the SBIR program, the House Committee on Science Space & Technology (HSS&T) and the House Committee on Small Business (HSB). The HSB generally takes the lead unless there is an issue dealing with the universities (we'll discuss later).
H.R. 1425, Creating Jobs Through Small Business Innovation Act of 2011, was reported out of the HSS&T and HSB in mid-May of 2011. It has yet to reach the House floor.
Seeing the Senate's compromise on the VC issue (supported by BIO and NVCA), the HSB decided to double the amounts for the VCs, and add Hedge Funds and Private Equity Investment Organizations to the list of entities that could have majority ownership of a small business and still compete for SBIR funding. This added support from their Wall Street benefactors. Of course, BIO and NVCA were more than happy to support the House bill that gave them more than they dreamed of!
Disingenuous Dear Colleague ???: HSB Chair Sam Graves sent a "Dear Colleague" to House members on September 15, 2011 that at best could be termed "misleading." Let's examine:
Mr. Graves states: "First, let us say that it is our full intention as the Chairmen of the House Small Business and Science, Space, and Technology Committees to negotiate a long-term reauthorization of the SBIR program."
Challenge: Graves mentions "long-term reauthorization". SBIR has always been reauthorized in 8 year chunks. Last year Graves supported only a 2 year reauthorization, this year he proposes 3 years. The Senate is supporting the customary 8 years, but Grave's sticks to 3. Is that "long term?" It should be noted that work on SBIR reauthorization began in 2005 in anticipation of a 2008 expiration.
Mr. Graves states: "We have been diligently working with members on both sides of the aisle and on both sides of the Capitol to put together a long-term reauthorization that improves and modernizes the SBIR program and provides certainty to the thousands of small businesses that utilize the program."
Challenge: "Both sides of the Capitol?" Nonsense. Check with the Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship (SBE) on this. HSB posture has been their way or the highway.
Mr. Graves states: "We remain committed to reaching a deal on a SBIR reauthorization and will continue our discussions with the Senate to reach a deal."
Challenge: This gives House members the impression that details are being worked out when in fact, they aren't. Grave's worry is that you may try to do to him as you did to Ms. Velazquez, getting the party to "roll" (vote against) their ranking member or chairman . This saved the SBIR program back in May.
The main thing that saved the SBIR program in the last CR back in May, was your involvement, speaking up, working with your congressmen, telling them what was reasonable and proper, and what you expected from them. Many of you did this independently, or working with groups such as SBTC, SBBC, and/or some state organizations formed by small high tech businesses.
The Heroes Step Forward: Remember our previous statement concerning committee jurisdiction. In keeping with that, on October 11, 2011 Congressman Edward Markey (D-MA) along with 24 other representatives sent a letter to HBC chair Sam Graves & ranking member Nydia Velazquez about SBIR reauthorization issues.
They voice concern about the VC language in H.R.1425 and suggest borrowing from the Senate's S.493 language: "…therefore urge you to include language on VC participation similar to that of S. 493, which is supported by both the small business and venture capital communities. Also, integral to a limited increase in VC access is an increase in the total allocation for the SBIR program from its current 2.5 percent level to 3.5 percent, which also has support from a broad coalition of business groups, including the Small Business Technology Council, the U.S. Chamber, and National Federation of Independent Businesses."
"Second, we are concerned about section 505 of H.R. 1425, which would limit the number of SBIR awards and dollars individual companies can receive, and in doing so would seriously undermine the merit-based principles that make the SBIR program so successful.
"Second, we are concerned about section 505 of H.R. 1425, which would limit the number of SBIR awards and dollars individual companies can receive, and in doing so would seriously undermine the merit-based principles that make the SBIR program so successful."
They also voice concern and opposition to "direct to Phase II" (bypassing phase I) and they urge a long term reauthorization, as has been the case for almost 28 years. A complete copy of the letter can be seen at: www.zyn.com/sbir/insider/markey2.pdf
The hero's who signed the letter are: Edward Markey (D-MA); Niki Tsongas (D-MA); Peter Welch (D-VT); David B. McKinley (R-WV); Rosa L. DeLauro (D-CT) ; Donald Manzullo (R-IL); Lois Capps (D-CA); Laura Richardson (D-CA); Joe Courtney (D-CT); Jackie Speir (D-CA); Jared Polis (D-CO); John Tierney (D-MA); William Keating (D-MA); Paul Tonko (D-NY); Sam Farr (D-CA); Bill Posey (R-FL); Jim Langevin (D-RI); Maxine Waters (D-CA); Chris Murphy (D-CT); David Cicilline (D-RI); Pete Stark (D-CA); Marcia Fudge (D-OH); Martin Heinrich (D-NM); Raul Grijalva (D-AZ); Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX)
Another "Potential" Hero? In a written response to one of his small business SBIR constituents who voiced concern over the VC issue in House bill, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) stated: "I am concerned that the bill goes too far in relaxing constraints on venture capital ownership of firms receiving SBIR and STTR funds which could lead to the subsidization of venture capitalist firms with taxpayer dollars. Rest assured, I will keep your thoughts in mind as H.R. 1425 moves through the legislative process."
Speaker Boehner may well remember that a former speaker of the House, Tom Foley was voted out of office by his Washington State constituents, many of which thought he gave more attention to his lobbyist backers than his constituents. Also, Boehner saw his good friend and neighbor Steve Chabot (R-OH) get voted out of the house in 2008 for similar reasons (Chabot is now back in as of the 2010 election).
The University Backlash: The university groups historically disliked and often tried to reject/abolish the SBIR program. In fact, it was the university community along with the NIH that were able to remove/exempt SBIR (in the dead of night) from any inclusion in recovery act (ARRA) funding.
The HSS&T totally rejected the Senate's idea of increasing the SBIR allocation from 2.5% to 3.5% over 10 years. Any SBIR increase was historically fought against by the university community), and the HSB was more than happy to accommodate them. This put the universities solid support in the corner of the House's H.R. 1425 SBIR bill, which made no increase in the SBIR allocation, but removed significant portions of SBIR dollars from small businesses to channel those dollars to Wall Street and university programs.
Most people don't realize the enormity of university lobbying. Just as we discussed the power of organizations such as BIO and NVCA, we must include the university sector and non-profits in the group of power brokers, such as:.
Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology (FASEB): $331,384
Of course the prim and proper atmosphere of the universities made them the ideal group to disparage the success of the SBIR program (even though they were often a beneficiary of SBIR/STTR success). It wasn't personal, but they believe that the agencies' extramural R&D budgets (especially NIH) belonged to them, and any deviation of those funds would result in cures and treatments not being funded or discovered. It is like small R&D businesses are merely chopped liver trying to suck blood money out of critical university research.
In fact, some in the university sector delighted in citing SBIR "waste, fraud & abuse" (WFA) as an example of a poor government investment. Indeed there is some and it should, and will be dealt with. However, it has yet to be demonstrated that SBIR has as much or more WFA than other government programs and participants, including universities!
Excuse me, I've been told that universities don't have WFA, but merely an occasional wayward professor. Other times it is simply a matter of "Research Misconduct."
I suppose it was a simple case of research misconduct when EPA reported (in their publication "When Good Money Goes Bad"): A university in New England agreed to pay $2.5 million in damages and penalties to settle civil allegations that the university submitted false claims on approximately 500 federal grants awarded to them.
Let's be honest, intentional WFA is a product of the dark side of the human animal, and it's present in all environments. We should work together to minimize it, as well as reduce unintentional occurrences of WFA.
Support the National SBIR Fall 2011 Conference, Nov 6-9, 2011 * New Orleans, LA
Do you want to be an SBIR Insider and receive Zyn's SBIR Gateway Insider Newsletter? It's free and we will not spam or share your email address with anyone.
Copyright © 2011 Zyn Systems. All rights reserved.