WASHINGTON — Federal research and development programs that aid innovative small businesses such as iRobot, should be renewed, experts said at a Senate committee hearing Thursday.
The two r&d programs – nicknamed “America’s seed fund” – support small businesses that develop technologies that could be used by government agencies. Set to expire on Sept. 30, 2017, these programs have distributed more than $40 billion since 1982, according to John Williams, director of innovation and technology at the Small Business Administration.
Williams said that the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs are critical to America’s economic growth and also “the keys to the next generation of science and technology advancements.”
But Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee Chairman David Vitter critiqued the lack of fresh information on the programs from the government. Annual reports on funding provided by federal agencies are required by law, but according to Vitter, the most recent Small Business Administration report available is from fiscal 2012.
Williams said that he hoped to get the reports out faster and have 2013 data available in three months. Having good and timely data, in theory, would help Congress make speedier decisions on funding.
“My goal is to try to get these reports out within six months of the data getting to us from the agencies,” Williams said.
The last time the small business r&d programs were reauthorized, in December 2011, it took three years and 14 short-term extensions to get it done.
In calling the hearing, lawmakers are planning ahead for next year’s reauthorization deadline in the hope that things to smoother. Ranking Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, of New Hampshire, said the programs should be made permanent, removing the need for further renewals.
In addition to providing innovative technology to federal agencies like NASA and the Defense Department, the programs have played a part in developing many consumer products.
Jere Glover, executive director of the Small Business Technology Council, said that iRobot, the company behind the Roomba – a robot vacuum cleaner — originally developed its technology to send robots into buildings to check for bombs. He also pointed to another success story – the da Vinci robotic surgery, funded for use in military field hospitals.
A 2014 Air Force economic impact study said the programs created $14.7 billion in sales and a yearly average of 17,000 new jobs from 2000 to 2013. And Glover said that commercial sales and government purchases create $3.60 in value for every dollar spent.
“It’s a phenomenal return,” he said.