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An Assessment of the SBIR Program at the Department of Energy
philosophy, as articulated by Dr. Johnson above. That is, the likelihood of commercialization is included among the criteria for evaluating grant applications, but is outweighed by other criteria, which emphasize the scientific and technical merit of the proposal.
5.2 ALIGNMENT ISSUES FOR SBIR AND THE DOE MISSION
Despite the above approach to balancing the program’s dual purposes, the program has not always enjoyed unanimous support throughout all levels of management at the agency. The conceptual tension that exists between the two primary goals of the SBIR—to involve small firms in agency R&D and to fund projects with commercial potential—has resulted in a program that has earned increasing respect from program managers within DoE,5 and yet continues to receive relatively low levels of intraagency resources for administration.
5.2.1 Research vs. Commercial Culture
Within the rigorous research culture that predominates within the Office of Science, managers of core research programs often are not in the habit of working with small businesses, nor of considering commercialization to be a priority in the evaluation of grant applications.
5.2.2 SBIR as a Tax
Furthermore (as in other agencies), those responsible for DoE R&D programs have only slowly come to view the SBIR program as something other than a “tax” that draws resources away from more valuable activities.
5.2.3 Administrative Burdens
Additional resistance also has derived from the relatively high cost and demanding nature of the SBIR program. SBIR proposals are less efficient to review, per dollar of research funded, because of the large number of proposals received, and more burdensome because of the tight deadlines.
Also, the performers of the research are different from DoE norm—requiring more outreach than for grantees at universities, for example, where the process of grant applications is better understood.
Finally, the agency’s peer-review system is labor-intensive; DoE conveys information packages to at least three reviewers for every proposal, selected for their expertise in the proposal’s subject matter, and retrieves them on time, or
Particularly in the earlier stages of SBIR at DoE, this respect came grudgingly as some DoE programs felt SBIR may not fit well into programs that have broad research missions.