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Assessment of NASA Programs Released

May 09, 1997

The National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) has released an assessment of NASA's technology transfer and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programs.

Overall, NAPA found that NASA continuously implements new approaches designed to enhance the commercial impact of its R&D investments. While acknowledging the difficulties in measuring accomplishments in technology transfer and commercialization activities, NAPA found that NASA's efforts compare favorably with other federal agencies and, in a number of cases, its efforts are likely to offer better performance and value than those of other agencies.  Specific recommendations pertaining to mechanisms for commercializing technology include:

  • NASA should plan to phase out the Technical Assistance Program

    Most NASA research centers provide assistance to firms that request help in solving technical, engineering problems. NAPA asserts that the assistance provided reflects the application of existing technology rather than commercialization of NASA-developed technologies. NAPA argues technical assistance should be supported by other state or federal agencies whose missions include supplying engineering assistance to firms.

  • The role of the RTTCs as an outreach mechanism should be reaffirmed

    The most active of NASA's outreach mechanisms are the Regional Technology Transfer Centers (RTTCs), according to NAPA. The RTTCs have developed a broad range of contacts and durable links with firms within their regions. NAPA found that the centers' knowledge of the businesses in their region makes them an effective mechanism to bring NASA technologies to market.

  • The mission of NTTC should be clarified, and its organization and management should be reevaluated

    The National Technology Transfer Center (NTTC) was established as a congressionally mandated, national focal point to accelerate the flow of federal technologies to U.S. industry. Although funded primarily by NASA, its original mission was to serve as a gateway for all federal technology transfer. In recent years, NTTC has become more specifically aligned with NASA's mission. However, NAPA found that the relative roles and relationships among the RTTCs and NTTC are not clear. NAPA recommends that NASA clarify the roles and functions of NTTC and the RTTCs as a means of removing unhealthy tension between the organizations.

  • NASA should phase out support of existing incubators

    NASA sponsors several technology commercialization centers or incubators. NAPA argues that entrepreneurial assistance is more appropriately provided by state and local governments or universities.

  • SBIR

    Specific recommendations pertaining to SBIR include:
  • The criterion of commercial promise should be placed on equal footing with technical merit in the selection of SBIR proposals
  • The time period between the end of Phase I and the beginning of Phase II should be reduced
  • NASA should consider providing bridge funding between Phase I and Phase II

The review had been requested by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development and Independent Agencies, and was supported by NASA's Division of Commercial Technology. The report, A Review of the Commercial Technology Division's Program, is available from NAPA at 202/347-3190.