Small Business Administration Editorial credit: Jer123 / Shutterstock.com

GAO: R&D award programs need tightening

Federal agencies provide a lot of financial support to private sector—including small business— R&D efforts, turning basic research into commercial technologies. 

While federal managers of these smaller business programs perform many aspects of their mission properly, a new Government Accountability Office report finds most need to tighten up on following the rules governing these programs. 

The Small Business Administration oversees these research and development support schemes—to the tune of almost $4 billion in FY 2019. The two main pathways are the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. Eleven separate agencies carry out the actual award disbursements. 

As the overseer, SBA has developed 10 separate requirements to prevent waste, fraud and abuse, and these are designed to be applied at every one of the individual 11 agency programs. 

“However, a number of federal agencies did not fully implement SBA's requirements,” the GAO report notes. “Most agencies fully implemented at least eight of the 10 requirements and partially implemented the others.” 

The partial implementation of the rules is a cause of concern, according to the GAO report. It noted that agency officials who failed to apply all of the safeguards “gave various reasons for partially implementing requirements, such as their belief that they had met a requirement's intent through other actions.” 

But, the report’s authors concluded, even relatively small deviations from the strict rules could cause trouble—leading an agency to “face difficulties.” The report went on to describe various forms of investigation that can be and are employed by federal authorities who deal with SBIR and STTR “to mitigate risks of fraud, waste and abuse,” steps that can begin with alerting Office of Inspector General officials.

Only one agency of the 11 studied, NASA, fully and properly implemented all 10 SBA requirements, the report notes.

Bottom line; The report reiterated the need for even slightly out-of-compliance agencies and program managers to simply more strictly adhere to the SBA rules in the first place.

2021 Digital Almanac

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