Evaluation and Recommendations for Improvement of the Department of Defense Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program

by Bruce Held, Thomas R. Edison, Jr., Shari Lawrence Pfleeger, Philip S. Anton, John Clancy


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The broad goal of the Department of Defense (DoD) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program is “to harness the innovative talents of our nation’s small technology companies for U.S. military and economic strength.” RAND researchers examined the DoD SBIR program to assess to what extent DoD is funding small businesses and to determine whether the program is indeed stimulating innovation both in the military and commercially. Overall, the researchers found that SBIR research topics align well with the department’s priorities while remaining flexible enough to focus in areas that are more appropriate for small businesses. But the researchers discovered other trends during the course of the research that might be cause for concern for the future of the program. For example, the DoD SBIR program is managed in a manner that may be too lean. This finding reinforces the idea that the DoD SBIR program might be perceived more as a tax and burden to be borne by DoD than as an research and development resource to be leveraged. In light of their findings, the researchers recommend policy options for making the DoD SBIR program more responsive to the needs of the department and to the broader defense mission.

The research described in this report was prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted in the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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