methodological challenges. These challenges, discussed in detail in the National Research Council’s Methodology Report, are briefly reviewed below.3

Compared to What?

Assessment usually involves comparison—comparing programs and activities, in this case. Three kinds of comparison seem possible: with other programs at each agency, among SBIR programs at the various agencies, and with early-stage technology development funding in the private sector, such as venture capital activities. Yet, as we see below, the utility of each of these three types of comparison is limited.

Comparison with Other NASA Programs

Within NASA, no other program is dedicated to support innovative small businesses. This fundamental difference in objectives makes it difficult to compare the NASA SBIR program with other programs at the agency.

Comparison with Other SBIR Programs

Comparing the NASA SBIR program with those at other agencies is superficially more useful. However, as discussed in Chapter 1 of this volume, the SBIR programs at each of the agencies are shaped by the different agency missions. This, in turn, is reflected in the different mechanisms and approaches taken by the agencies. Agencies whose mission is to develop technologies for internal agency use via procurement—notably DoD and NASA—have a different orientation from agencies that do not procure technology and are instead focused on developing technologies for use outside the agency.

There are important differences between the two “procurement” agencies. At DoD, once an SBIR technology is proven, there are opportunities for integration of that technology into a very substantial stream of acquisitions dollars. At NASA, such proven technologies may also be taken up for use by the agency—often only for one or two copies of a technology, for use on NASA space missions. Thus, the character of commercialization is quite different.


National Research Council, An Assessment of the Small Business Innovation Research Program—Project Methodology, Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, pp. 20-21, 2004. For a broader discussion of the scope and limitations of surveys by the University of Michigan Survey Research Center, see Robert M. Groves, Floyd J. Fowler, Jr., Mick P. Couper, James M. Lepkowski, Eleanor Singer, and Roger Tourangeau, Survey Methodology, Boston, MA: WileyBlackwell, 2004.

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