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GAO Report on STTR Program Released

March 15, 1996

The General Accounting Office (GAO) released a report on the implementation of the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Pilot Program. STTR is closely modeled after the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program with one notable exception: in the STTR Program, a small business must collaborate with a nonprofit research institution, such as a university. This collaboration is permitted but not required under SBIR.

The program began in FY1994 as a 3-year pilot and the authorizing legislation required that GAO report on the implementation of the program.

GAO reports that their discussions with agency officials “provided no evidence to suggest that STTR was competing for quality proposals with SBIR or reducing the quality of agency R&D in general.” Officials expressed differing views on the effect of the STTR Program on the agencies’ other R&D efforts, including the SBIR Program. The Army STTR program manager indicated that he believed the STTR Program had actually led to more collaboration in the Army’s SBIR Program, while SBA officials and the Department of Energy’s STTR program manager felt it was too early to draw any conclusions.

In the report, GAO opines that similarities between the STTR and SBIR Programs raise the issue of the need for the STTR Program. GAO poses three questions that it says are relevant in determining the need for the STTR Program and then attempts to answer those questions.

The first question GAO poses is: “is technology originating primarily in the research institution as envisioned in the rationale for the program or is it originating in the small business?” GAO reports that data to answer the question is unavailable.

GAO then asks: “is the mandatory collaboration between the small business and the research institution effective in transferring the technology to the marketplace?” GAO points out that, ”generally, 5 to 9 years are needed to turn an initial concept into a marketable product. Thus, it may be several years before the commercial effectiveness of the program can be evaluated.”

Finally, the GAO asks, “Can the SBIR Program accomplish the same objective without the collaboration required by the STTR Program?” In answering the question, the GAO argues, “The rationale for the STTR Program tends to assume that such collaborations were relatively rare in the SBIR Program.”

The report provides anecdotal accounts of collaboration in the SBIR Program, but provides no quantitative data on the number of SBIR awards that involved collaboration. It concludes that “given the apparent variation from one agency to another and the lack of current data, no definite conclusion can be drawn at present concerning the need for STTR in forging collaborations.”

Copies of the report may be obtained by calling the GAO.

gao, sttr