Despite ongoing negotiations in the Senate and House throughout 2009, the new year is beginning with the SBIR reauthorization effort at a continued standstill.
While Congress did successfully save the SBIR/STTR from extinction by implementing a series of five continuing resolutions (“CR”) since the authorization expired back in September 2008, no permanent solution has been reached and the current CR is set to expire on January 31, 2010. Thus, the SBIR/STTR programs continue to be in limbo.
If you have been following this issue at all and are familiar with the SBIR/STTR programs, you may be wondering why these programs continue to be in a perpetual state of almost extinction.
According to the SBIR Gateway, which has been covering this issue, the problem is that the Senate and the House cannot agree on the terms of a reauthorization bill. There are apparently eight issues that are still being debated:
- Length of reauthorization;
- Venture capital participation in SBIR;
- Award levels;
- Sequential Phase II award;
- Retention of Phase I requirement;
- Allocation increase;
- Administrative funds; and
- Rural and state outreach.
SBIR Gateway attributes the problems to the fact that ” the more the Senate was willing to compromise, the more the House wanted” and asserts that the “House Small Business Committee under the leadership of Nydia Velazquez and her staffer Michael Day wanted to hold the SBIR program hostage.” According to SBIR Gateway, a key issue is that Velazquez is receiving large campaign contributions from the National Venture Capital Association (“NVCA”) and biotech investors, and they are the groups who would stand to benefit from the House Bill the most. So, the argument is that Velazquez is unwilling to agree to more than a two year reauthorization for this very reason.
Regardless of what is going on here, it is clear that the whole SBIR reauthorization effort has become bogged down in politics and has been therefore left on the backburner. Based on what I personally have observed this past year, I would argue that this seems to be the current state of affairs for anything involving small business: Congress seems to have put small businesses in general on the backburner for whatever reason, despite the fact that small businesses, which include biotech companies and other start-ups, provide the majority of jobs in this country and unemployment as well as underemployment continues to be the overarching concern of most Americans today. So, small businesses have largely been left to fend for themselves through this recession and deal with the fact that access to capital has all but dried up, while Congress has been out bailing out banks, failed auto companies, and other “too big to fail” institutions–which employ only a small percentage of the nation’s workforce–with our taxpayer dollars.
Does any of this really make sense?
The California Biotech Law Blog would like to see Congress to reassess its priorities in 2010: it is time to put the focus on small business. I am certain that many of you in the biotech community would agree that getting serious about finally passing a SBIR/STTR reauthorization bill would be a good start.