The Senate quietly approved a bipartisan plan to extend the Small Business Innovation Research and complementary Small Business Technology Transfer programs by three years on Tuesday, teeing up a possible House vote in the coming days.
The move brings the efforts one step closer to reauthorization following weeks of negotiations on a potential standalone deal that have culminated in a framework that includes a number of programmatic changes targeting concerns over foreign influence and so-called “SBIR mills.”
Those changes include a requirement that would let potential vendors pitch solutions to Defense Department components at least once a year for the programs; new transition standards for phase I and II awardees participating in the three-phase programs; and the implementation of a claw-back provision that would give agencies approval to recover funds in certain instances.
DOD and other federal agencies would also need to create “a due diligence program to assess the potential risk posed by foreign ties and obligations,” according to a summary of the legislation obtained Tuesday by Inside Defense.
The bill from Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the chair of the Senate small business committee, cleared the Senate this week after lawmakers leveraged a hotline process to limit debate and get it through the chamber via unanimous consent.
The programs need to be reauthorized by Sept. 30 to avoid a lapse, a potential scenario DOD — one of the biggest users of the SBIR and SBTT programs as part of its innovation landscape — has spent weeks preparing for.
The reauthorization process has been closely watched thus far as observers waited for the “six corners,” consisting of the House and Senate small business panels and the House science committee, to reach consensus as the window for legislative action this month draws to a close.
The three-year reauthorization timeline that lawmakers decided upon, which would stave off another extension debate through Sept. 30, 2025, is less than the current five-year one both programs are operating under. SBIR and STTR were most recently reauthorized in 2016 under the FY-17 National Defense Authorization Act.