Tuesday, January 29, 2008

House Committee Calls for Sweeping Reforms to SBIR Program; Velázquez Critiques President Bush's Final State of the Union Address

As the specter of a recession looms, small-business innovation becomes an increasingly vital asset to our economy. It was technology startups, after all, that led the way back to growth during our last slowdown.

During a hearing on the Small Business Innovation and Research [SBIR] program today, witnesses underscored its importance in ensuring American competitiveness. They also offered compelling evidence of a need to reform various parts of the initiative.

"SBIR is the largest government-wide research and development program, and it has helped turn some of the nation’s best ideas into tangible market realities," said Rep. Nydia Velázquez [D-N.Y.], chairwoman of the House Committee on Small Business. "Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs are still not getting the access to the R&D funds they need. That puts them at great disadvantage and robs our economy of the type of innovation we require most."

The SBIR was created by Congress in 1982, and is scheduled to sunset on Sept. 30, 2008. Throughout its history, the program has used small firms to help federal agencies meet their R&D goals. It has also fostered considerable technological innovation and prompted the commercialization of resulting products and services. However, as technology and national priorities change, the initiative is failing to keep pace.

"Even in a challenging economy, SBIR has helped small firms create jobs and wealth. We must continue to strengthen this program and align its focus with today’s technological realities," said Velázquez.

When the SBIR Reauthorization Act of 2000 was passed, technologies such as wireless communications, high definition television and hybrid cars were still in relative infancy. While that law made several modifications, the program is in need of further modernization. Witnesses also pointed to a need for increasing SBIR grants; suggested streamlining the application process; and called for greater flexibility to allow participating firms to leverage private-sector funds.

"One sure way to keep the American economy on the right track is to reform this initiative with an emphasis on providing resources for economically viable technologies," Velázquez noted. "We should increase competition within SBIR, ensure that awards go to projects that will produce the greatest return for taxpayers, and do everything possible to help today’s small firms bring forth tomorrow’s goods and services."

Velázquez: President Bush’s Final State of the Union Speech Falls Short on Proposals to Help Small Firms Spur the Economy
President George W. Bush delivered his final State of the Union address last night, and spoke about the bipartisan economic stimulus plan that Democrats negotiated on behalf of America’s entrepreneurs and working families. The $147 billion stimulus package is meant to spur the lagging economy, and includes short-term provisions to help small businesses. These include a one-year doubling of the capital expensing limit from $125,000 to $250,000, and an opportunity to write off 50 percent of depreciation for certain equipment purchases in 2008.

All are steps in the right direction, Velázquez observed, but President Bush needed to have spoken about long-term support for the 26.8 million small firms that comprise the economic engine of the United States. He mentioned small businesses only once, and those who tuned into his speech were left wondering if the final 50 weeks of his administration will be just like his first seven years—full of empty promises.

"The president has missed yet another opportunity to address the long-term concerns of small-business owners," said Velázquez. "In the face of a recession, it is clear that it is Democrats who will do whatever is necessary to help American entrepreneurs."

Several of the top concerns of small firms were particularly suspect in their absence from the president’s speech. He failed to adequately broach such items as health care, energy costs and the need for affordable capital.

"Everyone is feeling the credit crunch and rising costs, but entrepreneurs are being hit particularly hard," Velázquez noted. "That harms their ability to grow their businesses, and robs the economy of their full contributions.

"The president said we should empower people to grow the economy. Unfortunately, his State of the Union address failed to lay out a vision to do that."

SOURCES: Library of Congress, U.S. House Committee on Small Business, U.S. Small Business Administration, The White House [photo]

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