gies that can eventually be acquired by the agency for agency use. Applications are not accepted outside topic areas defined in the solicitation.

  1. Management-oriented Topic Procedures. At the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy (DoE), topics are used to serve the needs of agency management, not as a method of acquiring technology. NSF primarily focuses on ensuring that the research agendas of the various NSF directorates (divisions) are closely served. This enhances agency staff buy-in for SBIR. At DoE, topics are also used as a screen to reduce the number of applications so that the agency’s limited SBIR staff is able to manage the program effectively. As a result, neither agency will accept applications outside topic areas defined in the solicitation.

  2. Guideline-oriented Topic Procedures. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the only agency that uses topics as guidelines and indicators, not hard delimiters. NIH issues annual topic descriptions, but emphatically notes that it primarily supports investigator-driven research. Topics are defined to show researchers areas of interest to the NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs), not to delimit what constitutes acceptable applications. Applications on any topic or subject are therefore potentially acceptable.

Acquisition-oriented Approaches

Acquisition-oriented approaches are designed to align long range research with the likely needs of specific agencies and programs. How well this works depends to a great degree on the specific topic development mechanisms used at each agency.
Topic Development

In DoD, topics originate in Service Laboratories1 or in Program Acquisition Offices. Many awarding units within DoD do not have their own laboratories, and depend on the Service Laboratories for “in-house” expertise. They request topics from these experts, who thus become topic authors. These authors frequently become the technical monitors for the contracts that are awarded based on their topics.

Since 1999, DoD has made a number of efforts to ensure that topics are closely aligned with the needs of acquisition programs. For example, each major acquisition program has a SBIR liaison officer, who works with SBIR program managers within DoD, and with the SBIR contractor community. Their job is to provide a mechanism through which contractors can communicate with end cus-


The laboratories develop technologies to meet long-term agency needs.

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