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An Assessment of the SBIR Program at the Department of Defense
its office; each major Navy component (such as NAVSEA or NAVAIR) controls its own SBIR program budget, and so on, down to the laboratory level.
At the service or agency level, there is an SBIR program manager and perhaps a program office, which includes contract staff support, as well as a budget that covers travel expenses. Within the larger components there are SBIR managers (and offices in some cases) at lower level commands and development agencies. Some positions are full time; other SBIR managers have additional duties as well.
At the project level, there are large numbers of technical monitors (TPOCs), who work part time on one or more SBIR projects. Their salary and travel are not specifically associated with SBIR in the components. Similarly, no separate budgets exist to support the contracting officers and legal support necessary for the operation of the SBIR program.
At the DoD level, the DoD SADBU controls the budget for that office. Similarly the DDR&E controls its budget. Neither of these SBIR-associated offices allocates or controls the SBIR administrative budget of any component.
Even if line item amounts were available for contract, legal, audit and finance support, these budgets would likely not include salaries, travel, and other expenses for the hundreds of technical monitors throughout DoD, who may spend five to fifty days a year writing topics, reviewing SBIR proposals, or monitoring SBIR awards as the Contracting Officer’s Technical Representative (COTR). Imputations of the costs incurred by these activities are possible, but have not been done. Thus, no estimate of the cost to DoD of managing its SBIR program currently exists.
Yet while precise budgeting is not possible under the current organization and financial architecture, it is clear that some agencies provide substantially more administrative funding than others.27 The Navy’s SBIR program in particular has been funded at a level of approximately $20 million.28 This has allowed the Navy SBIR program to innovate in important ways—via the TAP program, for example, and also through enhanced evaluation and assessment efforts. This level of agency commitment is not matched at other agencies, where significantly less administrative funding is available.
Both for purposes of evaluation and management, it is important to better understand the program’s operations and the impact of various procedures of program innovation. To do so, more management and evaluation resources are required, as the Navy has demonstrated. Given the substantial size of the current SBIR program at Defense, additional management funds would seem to be warranted and are likely to be cost effective.
It should, however, be noted that close comparisons are not self-evident, because each DoD agency funds its administrative work differently, especially in the SBIR program where so many other functions (TPOCs, administrators , topic reviewers, proposal reviewers) work on SBIR and other projects without being attached to any SBIR line item.
John Williams, Navy SBIR Program Manager, Private communication.