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Small Business Research Grants Reauthorized in DADT Bill [Updated]

Capitol Building (A. Kotok)

(A. Kotok)

UPDATE, 27 DECEMBER: My reading of the legislation and commentary was in error. It turns out the language to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell replaced the SBIR/STTR authorization text in the bill, not added to the original text, as I first reported. SBIR and STTR are still on a temporary authorization through the end of January 2011.

Robb Mandelbaum of the New York Times is moderately optimistic about a permanent reauthorization. Jeff Mervis at Science magazine, however, is more downbeat about its prospects.

My apologies for the error earlier today.


The bill to repeal the Department of Defense’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) policy on gays serving in the military included a reauthorization of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technical Transfer (STTR) programs. President Obama signed the bill into law on 22 December.

The SBIR and STTR programs require federal agencies giving R&D grants to set aside a portion of their project portfolios for small businesses. SBIR grants go to small R&D businesses, while STTR grants are given to joint ventures between academic and small-business researchers.

As described by the New York Times, the need for speed made the SBIR/STTR reauthorizaton bill a vehicle for the DADT repeal. The House of Representatives and Senate had each passed a version of the bill in 2009 — the original name of the bill was the “SBIR/STTR Reauthorization Act of 2009” — but House/Senate negotiations bogged down and the conference committee never reported out compromise bill that satisfied both sides. The bill didn’t die; it just sat there.

When DADT repeal became a high legislative priority at the end of the lame-duck session last week, lawmakers in the House needed an existing dormant bill that already passed the House to which it could attach the DADT language, and the SBIR/STTR reauthorization served that purpose. Without an existing bill, the House would have had to start over the entire legislative process — with hearings and debate — that the short time did not allow.

The added language to the bill, renamed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010,” passed the House by a 250-175 vote on 15 December and the Senate by a 65-31 margin on 18 December.

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