Thursday, January 22, 2009

S 177 Funds Water Security Research

Sen. Russell Feingold (D, WI) introduced the Strengthening Our Economy through Small Business Innovation Act of 2009 (S 177) to amend the Small Business Act to extend the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer programs. Both of these programs are funded by the individual agencies supporting the research. It also expands the covered ‘critical technologies or pressing research priorities’ covered by these programs to include, among other things, water security. Project Funding This proposed legislation increases the percentage of agency research dollars that will be given to small businesses for conducting the covered research. The current law provides that each agency will spend 2.5% of its research and development budget with small businesses under the SBIR and 0.3% of extramural budget for the STTR program. Those percentages will increase by annual steps to 10.0% {§ 4(a)} and 1.0% {§ 4(b)} respectively and continue at those levels until 2022 and 2023. S 177 proposes to increase the maximum grant sizes from the current limits of $100,000 (one year grants) or $750,000 (two year grants) to new limits of $300,000 or $2,200,000 for each project {§§ 5(a) and 5(b)}. These project limits will apply to both programs. Project Subject Matter The original legislation mandated that these programs should be associated with critical technologies identified by the National Critical Technologies Panel or the Secretary of Defense. S 177 expands the targeted areas to include critical technologies and other ‘pressing research priorities’ {§ 6(1)} identified by a variety of reports and organizations. This includes two reports associated with water security prepared by the Committee on Water System Security Research of the National Academy of Sciences{§ 6(2)}. They are:
‘Improving the Nation’s Water Security; Opportunities for Research’, 2007 ‘Public Water Distribution Systems: Assessing and Reducing Risks’, 2006
Additionally, this legislation allows for grants associated with technologies and priorities identified by future publications by the National Academy of Sciences or the Environmental Protection Agency relating to improving the Nation’s water supply and security. This reflects the current regulatory situation where the EPA is responsible for establishing security program requirements for water treatment and waste water treatment facilities. Currently these treatment facilities are exempted, by law, from the requirements of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) set forth in 6 CFR part 27. It seems likely that that exemption will be removed in the current session of Congress when the authorization for CFATS is extended past its current expiration in October of this year. This means that this legislation should probably also include DHS as an agency that can suggest technologies and research priorities that would be covered by SBIR and STTR programs for water security. Funding Offset Finally the proposed legislation provides that any increase in expenditures will be ‘offset’ by eliminating Department of Defense funding for the Airborne Laser program {§ 7}. This seems to be a disingenuous move to simply eliminate funding for that program in a bill that is unlikely to be reviewed by DOD oversight committees. Since this bill does not increase general research funding (it only increases the percentage of funding that goes to small businesses) there is no need to establish a funding offset. This appears to be one of those underhanded legislative tricks that are used to try to shut down a program that has powerful protectors. Rather than having an upfront discussion about the merits, or lack thereof, of a project, the funding is cut in an unrelated piece of legislation. Then the funding burden is placed on the project backer who is forced to add the project back to the budget as an increase in spending; always a more difficult proposition than defending the continuation of current funding.

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