tomers in acquisition programs. The liaison officers may author topics, or cause them to be authored.
The topic review process at an acquisition-oriented agency is stringent and extensive. Alignment with mission and with anticipated technology needs is crucial. After each individual DoD component has completed its own internal topic review process, the results go through the department-wide DoD review process. This multistage topic approval process takes a considerable amount of time, sometimes more than a year.
Intracomponent review varies in duration, somewhat correlated by size (smaller components with fewer proposed topics take less time). The Army topic review is a centralized online process that takes 4 months, while Air Force review is less centralized (but also online) and takes up to 15 months.
There is a tension between the need to write topics tightly to ensure that they align well with acquisition programs, and the desire to write them broadly enough to fund novel mechanisms for resolving agency problems. Components have tended to adopt one or other of these approaches. For example, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has until recently had only a small number of broad topics, evolving only gradually from year to year, which provides great flexibility to proposing firms.
DoD is addressing this tension by calling for all topics to be written to allow a bidder “significant flexibility” in achieving the technical goals of the topic.2 For example, the Navy might need corrosion-resistant fastenings for use on ships. Instead of writing a topic that specifies the precise kinds of technology to be utilized, managers are now pushing for topics that simply state the problem and leave the technology itself up to applicant.
Particularly since 9/11, and the start of the conflict in Iraq, DoD has had acquisitions needs with short timeframes. Quick response topics offer a new way to short-cut the often lengthy topic review process.
As part of the DoD’s SBIR FY-2004.2 solicitation, the Navy added three special SBIR Quick Response Topics. The rules for these topics were slightly different: They offered a three- to six-month Phase I award of up to $100,000 (with no option), with successful Phase I firms being invited to apply for a Phase