Congress Deserves Its Due on Small Business Research Funding Law


When Congress does something that people think was done right, like reauthorizing the Small Business Innovation Research program, we shouldn’t hesitate to say so.

I wrote about Congress reauthorizing the SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer programs, which have been widely used by life sciences startups. In my article, I quoted Brian Wamhoff, co-founder and head of innovation for the Virginia-based biopharma HemoShear Therapeutics LLC, who said, “Thank you Congress for reauthorizing the SBIR and STTR programs.” Congress’s action “is huge for the biotech industry,” he said.

Congress acknowledged they were working to get it right this time because they didn’t do so well with it last time. The SBIR/STTR programs, which are funded from set asides from the R&D budgets of participating federal agencies, received 14 short-term extensions before Congress was able to pass the last reauthorization in 2012. The lawmakers were only able to get it through by making it part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

In 2016, Senate and House committee chairs acted to avoid this bottleneck and started the reauthorization process two years before the programs were due to expire in September 2017. They held hearings, ironed out differences, and on Dec. 23, 2016, President Obama signed the NDAA, which again included the reauthorization for the SBIR/STTR programs. They are now reauthorized through Sept. 30, 2022.

In contrast to five years ago, the new law was signed with little fanfare. Congress did its job ahead of schedule and without drama, which is probably why it didn’t receive much notice except for my Bloomberg BNA articles and a few more.

For the life sciences industry and for Congress, it was nice to end a year with a win.

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