SBIR Gets a Short Term Extension (Most Likely)

Earlier this year, Senate Small Business Committee Chair, John Kerry (D-MA) wrote a short bill, S.3029, “To provide for an additional temporary extension of programs under the Small Business Act and the Small Business Investment Act of 1958, and for other purposes.” It was cosponsored by his ranking member, Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and was passed in the Senate by Unanimous Consent on May 15, and by voice vote in the House on May 20. President Bush signed the bill into Public Law 10-235 on May 23, 2008. Its potential applicability to SBIR was kept low keyed in order to not interfere with reauthorization efforts that were underway in both the House and Senate. The text of the bill states:

a) In General- Section 1 of the Act entitled ‘An Act to extend temporarily certain authorities of the Small Business Administration’, approved October 10, 2006 (Public Law 109-316; 120 Stat. 1742), as most recently amended by section 1 of Public Law 110-136 (121 Stat. 1453), is amended by striking “May 23, 2008” each place it appears and inserting “March 20, 2009.”

Some believe that this bill also extends the SBIR program to March 20, 2009. However, on August 20, 2008, leaving nothing to chance, Nydia Velázquez, Chair of the House Small Business Committee, decided to ask the opinion of the SBA legal counsel if SBA believes PL 10-235 keeps the SBIR program running through March 20, 2009.

Peter K. Schalestock, Acting General Counsel for the SBA responded:

“Dear Madame Chairwoman: Thank you for your letter of August 20, 2008, regarding the reauthorization status of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program in Fiscal Year 2009. SBA agrees that the authorization for the SBIR Program is extended through March 20, 2009 and intends to continue to provide guidance, coordination, and oversight of the SBIR Program with the 11 SBIR Participating Agencies. We recognize the importance of continuing and effectively managing the SBIR Program under our temporary extension authority.”

Next Ms. Velázquez sent letters directly to the upper echelon of each of the 11 SBIR agencies. A portion of her letter is below:

“The last time the SBIR program was scheduled to be reauthorized was in fiscal year 2000. Due to a wide range of circumstances, however, this did not occur until December 21, 2000, months after the program’s authorization expired on September 30, 2000. This lapse in the program’s authorization created confusion at the SBIR agencies and resulted in awards to small businesses being delayed until the reauthorization legislation was signed into law.
“The Committee wanted to make certain that this situation would not reoccur this Fall. To accomplish this, Congress passed legislation that became P.L. 110-235 on May 23,2008. This legislation extends the authorization through March 20, 2009 of any program, authority, or provision of the Small Business Act (15 U.S.C. 631 et seq.) or the Small Business Investment Act of 1958 (15 U.S.C. 661 et seq.). This clearly includes the SBIR program, which is contained in Section 9 of the Small Business Act, and will allow the program to continue to operate into next year.
“Given that government-wide SBIR policy is established by the Small Business Administration and administered by federal agencies, the Committee wanted to ensure that all federal SBIR entities had a clear understanding of P.L. 110-235. In order to provide this clarity regarding the continuation of the SBIR program after September 30, 2008, please provide written confirmation that your agency does in fact view the statutory authority granted in P.L. 110-235 as being sufficient to extend the authorization of the SBIR program through March 20, 2009. If this is not the case, please provide the legal analysis that your agency has completed that demonstrates that the SBIR program would not be extended for this time period. Given the urgency of this matter, please provide the Committee with a written response by COB Friday, September 12, 2008.”

The bottom line is that most insiders agree this legislation will keep the SBIR program running through March 20, and the new 111th Congress should be cranked up and ready for business.

We will inform you if any agency reports back in the negative to Velázquez’s letter. You can bet if they do, the agency will receive the wrath of both House and Senate Small Business Committees.

As for the 111th Congress, it is expected that the House and Senate will still have vast differences to be worked out on an SBIR reauthorization bill. With the 111th facing many challenges such as 2009 appropriation bill issues, and a 2010 budget to work on and a new adminsitration, many insiders expect some sort of Continuing Resolution will be necessary to keep the SBIR going after the March 20 date.