• WisBusiness

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

From targeted grants to basic research, federal R&D spending is threatened

By Tom Still
The federal Small Business Innovation Research conference is coming to Wisconsin in April. Don’t be shocked if it’s one of the last to be held – anywhere.

Like many other research and development programs funded by the federal government, the 30-year-old SBIR grant program faces an uncertain future. Federal budget deficits and skeptical attitudes about the value of investments in science, from the space program to energy to climate change studies, have put R&D spending under a budget-cutting microscope in Congress.

Even though programs such as SBIR and the related Small Business Technology Transfer grants have proven their worth over time in terms of launching private businesses, it’s uncertain when they will be renewed by Congress and at what spending levels.

Between October 2003 and March 2010, according to figures kept by the Wisconsin Technology Council, 134 Wisconsin companies won SBIR grants worth a total of $190 million. While critics say some R&D companies live on the grants year after year and never really grow, most companies use them as early seed money and attract hundreds of times more in private investment dollars. Those investment dollars, in turn, create well-paying jobs.

Those kinds of stories, as well as hands-on advice from researchers, federal experts and others, will be featured at the federal SBIR spring conference, to be held April 10-13 at Madison’s Monona Terrace Convention Center. The event will be followed by a special Biofuels Showcase on April 14, also in Madison.

Eleven different federal agencies make highly competitive grants to researchers whose small businesses are helping push innovations closer to the marketplace. In Wisconsin, the federal agencies most active in making SBIR grants are the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense and its various branches, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

Reauthorization of the SBIR program has been delayed for more than two years, in part because of policy differences between the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, but lately due mostly to budget pressures. That’s not unlike what is facing other science programs in the federal budget.

With the federal budget deficit projected a $1.5 trillion this year, some members of Congress are taking no prisoners when it comes to cuts – especially in “discretionary” spending programs such as scientific research. Washington’s total investment in scientific research isn’t large compared to other parts of the budget, but the feds fund more than one-third of all R&D spending nationwide. That represented $398 billion in public and private spending in 2008, according to NSF. Of that total, about $30 billion is spent on “basic” research, the kind of unfettered inquiry that can lead to game-changing technologies.

Some members of Congress say cuts to the federal science budget are long overdue, calling some programs wasteful or politically motivated. Other critics suggest it’s time to go back to an era when private businesses funded most R&D breakthroughs.

Science proponents say the United States will be eating its seed corn if it slashes spending on science. They believe federal investments in R&D over time have not only sped life-saving inventions to the market, but created millions of jobs, spawned hundreds of thousands of companies and helped ensure national security through technological innovation.

“Well over half of our economic growth in the last century came from investing in science and technology,” said Raymond Orbach, who headed the Energy Department’s science office under President George W. Bush. Writing in Science magazine in February, Orbach said proposed research spending cuts “would effectively end America’s legendary status as the leader of the worldwide scientific community.”

Orbach, who now heads the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, said it’s not just a matter of bragging rights – but economic vibrancy and national defense.

“Other countries, such as China and India, are increasing their funding of scientific research because they understand its critical role in spurring technological advances and other innovations. If the United States is to compete in the global economy, it, too, must continue to invest in research programs,” Orbach wrote.

Wisconsin fares poorly in attracting most kinds of federal aid but it does well in winning merit-based federal science grants. About half of the $1.2 billion in R&D grants won by the state’s academic research institutions each year come from the federal government. Slash those grants, and Wisconsin’s ability to create a more competitive economy will be disproportionately harmed.

Reducing the federal deficit is serious business, but cutting the very research that will keep America prosperous and safe is a short-sighted way to go about it.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. To learn more about the national SBIR conference, go to http://www.wisconsinsbir.org.


Comments: 5

At March 31, 2013 at 12:30 PM, Blogger Assma said...

This post is at best, tenuously linked to economics. The only explanation I can offer is that I'm a sucker for articles that suggest an evolutionary basis for humanity' best dissertation current behavior.

At June 21, 2013 at 4:19 PM, Blogger Chris Westerfield said...

Very interesting post. THanks a lot for sharing it.


At March 2, 2016 at 3:10 AM, Blogger Ragi K said...

Good work

At January 10, 2017 at 3:56 PM, Blogger Thomas pedro said...

Obligation can be an unpleasant thing and hard for you to gain under power without anyone else. There are a few people who can take a few to get back some composure of their obligation issues. auto title loans

At October 20, 2017 at 12:45 AM, Blogger Exclusive Paper said...

Helpful information, thanks. I cannot say I`m the politic-lover. I need to have basic knowledge in this sphere because of the topic of the essay which I`m going to buy from original essay writing service.


Post a Comment

Back to BizOpinion main page

: See newer blog items : : See older blog items :

BizOpinion site feed

wisbusiness.com Social News

Follow Us

Site Sponsors


· January 2009
· February 2009
· March 2009
· April 2009
· May 2009
· June 2009
· July 2009
· August 2009
· September 2009
· October 2009
· November 2009
· December 2009
· January 2010
· February 2010
· March 2010
· April 2010
· May 2010
· June 2010
· July 2010
· August 2010
· September 2010
· October 2010
· November 2010
· December 2010
· January 2011
· February 2011
· March 2011
· April 2011
· May 2011
· June 2011
· July 2011
· August 2011
· September 2011
· October 2011
· November 2011
· December 2011
· January 2012
· February 2012
· March 2012
· April 2012
· May 2012
· June 2012
· July 2012
· August 2012
· September 2012
· October 2012
· November 2012
· December 2012
· January 2013
· February 2013
· March 2013
· April 2013
· May 2013
· June 2013
· July 2013
· August 2013
· September 2013
· October 2013
· November 2013
· December 2013
· January 2014
· February 2014
· March 2014
· April 2014
· May 2014
· June 2014
· July 2014
· August 2014
· September 2014
· October 2014
· November 2014
· December 2014
· January 2015
· February 2015
· March 2015
· April 2015
· May 2015
· June 2015
· July 2015
· August 2015
· September 2015
· October 2015
· November 2015
· December 2015
· January 2016
· February 2016
· March 2016
· April 2016
· May 2016
· July 2016
· August 2016
· October 2016
· December 2016
Copyright ©2013 WisBusiness.com All rights reserved. | WisOpinion.com | WisPolitics.com  |  Website development by wisnet.com LLC  | Website design by Makin’ Hey Communications