Report sheds light on SBIR subcontracting behavior

A new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) studies a sample of 198 Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) awards from FY 2019 to identify subcontracting activity. SBIR recipients are generally allowed to subcontract up to 50% of their award value, and STTR recipients must contract at least 30% with a nonprofit research institution. GAO found that 30% of Phase II awards included no subcontract, 24% included at least one subcontract with an academic institution, and 23% included at least one subcontract with a large business (including many defense contractors). The study also found marked differences between the Department of Defense, with 55% of Phase II awards including at least one subcontract, and civilian agencies, which saw subcontracts in 82% of awards. The purpose of GAO’s study was to determine the share of SBIR/STTR recipients reporting subcontractors in the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (FFATA) Subaward Reporting System (FSRS). While the agency estimates that only 10% of awards reported subcontracts, GAO notes that compliance is low across all federal programs and did not estimate what portion of awards are obliged to report under FSRS guidance.

GAO examines flexibilities intended to speed up DOD R&D

The Department of Defense (DOD) receives about $95 billion annually to support research and development efforts. But some members of Congress feared that requesting and allocating those funds took too long. It usually takes two years, which hinders response to evolving threats. The Senate addressed this issue in the Senate Report on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022, calling for the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review DOD research funding flexibilities. GAO reports that service officials responsible for R&D efforts were not familiar with all of the flexibilities available to them.

GAO, Future of EPSCoR committee issue reports

Jurisdictions that were early EPSCoR participants benefitted more from the program with higher project approval rates, but whether program goals are being met is unclear, according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report examining National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). The GAO report and another from the subcommittee on the Future of EPSCoR looked at the effectiveness of the program and made recommendations for improvement.

GAO updates technology assessment design handbook

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has updated its Technology Assessment Design Handbook, a program evaluation tool designed to assist in the development of robust technology assessments. First released to the public in December 2019, the handbook now includes additions based on the experiences of GAO teams, a review of relevant literature, and comments submitted by external experts. It also provides a high-level process for developing policy options. While the tool is designed for use by GAO staff, its methods and strategies are useful to any organization conducting a technology assessment.

GAO: Opportunity Zone program lacks oversight, accountability

Criticism of the federal Opportunity Zone program has been directed at individual examples of questionable tracts for inclusion, the process for selecting tracts in each state, and the merits of some of the development projects underway. For example, some question inclusion of lowlands subject to flooding as sea levels rise with climate change and subsidence, while others raise eyebrows at inclusion of greenfield freeway interchanges or tracts already undergoing gentrification in fast growing cities. Complaints have been raised about projects where the end use (e.g. a hotel) will offer low-wage, part-time jobs without benefits for worker or a chance of raising them out of poverty.  Still others question if a decade of forgone public revenues from real estate projects that would have happened anyway is good policy. A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office recommends Congress pass legislation granting the Treasury Department the authority to actually evaluate the program to determine if all of the concern is justified. 

GAO issues recommendations on efforts to prevent sexual harassment and discrimination

A recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) detailed findings of a review of federal efforts to prevent sexual harassment at universities that receive grants for STEM research. The GAO reviewed five agencies (the Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Agriculture, NASA, Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Science Foundation) that provide approximately 80 percent of federal STEM research grants and found that four of the five received few complaints under Title IX from individuals at universities. Title IX prohibits sexual harassment and other forms of sex discrimination in education program that receive federal funding. Federal agencies are required to enforce the law at universities they fund.

Innovation on hold for 1-out-of-4 SBIR winners

Federal agencies fail, on average, 24 percent of the time to notify applicant small businesses of award decisions within required deadlines. A small business has a zero percent chance of being able to plan to start an innovation project within six months if they apply to ARPA-E (the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency) or the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, both of which never met the deadline. 

More collaboration needed in quantum computing

With at least six federal agencies supporting quantum computing research and at least 10 agencies supporting synthetic biology research, more collaboration is needed to effectively marshal the agencies’ efforts to maintain U.S. competitiveness, according to a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). While the agencies do coordinate on the two areas through efforts such as conferences and interagency groups, the GAO found that the agencies have not fully implemented other practices, such as agreeing on roles and responsibilities and identifying common outcomes.

GAO says R&D investment key to future competitiveness of country

The Government Accountability Office identified eight trends having strong effects on both the federal government and society as a whole, and those included in the science and tech section of the report are suggested to be critical to the country’s competitiveness. The trends are part of the larger 2018-2023 strategic plan for the office, whose mission is to ensure that Congress is aware and informed, and to help improve the performance and ensure the accountability of the federal government. The trends analysis outlines the current situation, key uncertainties and implications of each trend. In the area of science and technology, the GAO identified five emerging technologies that may transform society: genome editing; artificial intelligence and automation; quantum information science; brain/augmented reality; and cryptocurrencies and blockchain.

Does Defense have $250M IOU to small businesses?

The SBIR program has been a legislated requirement of the Department of Defense, an agency responsible for roughly 40 percent of all federal extramural R&D spending, for more than three decades. One might expect that over that amount of time, the Department of Defense would have developed a system to become compliant with SBIR’s fundamental provision that a minimum threshold of innovation research spending be directed toward small businesses.  Yet, a new report from the Government Accountability Office concludes DOD couldn’t say if it was meeting the threshold because, DoD did not submit the required obligations data. The report states “DOD officials told [the GAO] that obtaining obligations data would require requesting information from more than 10 individual program offices that, in turn, would have to request the information from various DOD comptrollers, which would be a major effort.” [Emphasis added.]


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