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GAO advises federal agencies to improve timeliness of SBIR/STTR awards

An October 14 report from the Government Accounting Office (GAO) has identified ways for federal agencies who participate in the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) programs to improve the timeliness with which awards are issued to small businesses, which in turn will accelerate the technology transfer process.

The SBIR and STTR programs are highly competitive programs coordinated by the Small Business Administration (SBA) to encourage domestic small businesses to engage in Federal Research/Research and Development (R/R&D) with the potential for commercialization.

The FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) included a provision for GAO to review the timeliness of award notification and issuance. The FY 2021 NDAA conference report included a provision for GAO to review instances of agencies not following through with awards. This report, GAO's third, examines, among other things: (1) agencies' timeliness in notification and issuance, (2) the extent to which agencies have addressed risks to award timeliness, and (3) the extent to which the Department of Defense (DoD) established a pilot program to improve timeliness.

The report assessed the timeliness of SBIR/STTR awards issued by the Department of Agriculture, Department of Education, Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, and 23 component agencies within the Department of Commerce, DoD, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, and Department of Homeland Security. GAO analyzed SBIR and STTR award data, reviewed documentation, interviewed SBA officials, and sent a questionnaire to all 29 participating agencies and select small businesses.

Federal agencies participating in SBIR/STTR programs awarded more than $3 billion to small businesses in FY 2020 to develop and commercialize new technologies. Generally, Small Business Administration policy calls for businesses to be notified of an award within 90 days and to receive it within 180 days.

The report found that award timeliness has improved overall between FY2017 and FY2020, with the percentage of awards issued on time increasing from 62% to 82%. However, in FY2020, 20 of the 29 agencies reviewed by the GAO did not meet the report's definition of consistency (at least 90% of awards issued within 180 days). Eleven agencies issued at least 50% of their awards late in 2020. And this inconsistency dates back at least five years: 20 agencies issued fewer than 90% of awards on time in three or more years since FY2016.

"Absent an evaluation of steps already taken to improve timeliness and any necessary additional steps, agencies will likely continue to issue late awards, impeding small business growth and financial viability and delaying agencies’ access to science and technology solutions to meet their needs," the report stated.

Nearly all of the agencies that were routinely late in issuing awards to small businesses have taken some steps to address risks to the timeliness of their awards. Such risks included not having standardized proposal review procedures and a lack of dedicated staff to issue awards. Agencies have taken some steps to improve timeliness by, for example, streamlining proposal reviews and the award contracting process. However, they have not fully addressed risks they identified or evaluated steps already taken and may continue to issue late awards until they do so.

The GAO report made 22 recommendations to 20 federal agencies, including to improve the timeliness of awards to small businesses. Agencies concurred with 20 recommendations. DoD partially concurred with one and did not concur with another recommendation that GAO maintains still is warranted.

Read more: https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-22-104677

Read the full report: https://www.gao.gov/assets/gao-22-104677.pdf

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