Fast Facts

Federal agencies participating in the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs awarded over $3 billion to small businesses in FY 2020 to develop and commercialize new technologies. Generally, Small Business Administration policy calls for businesses to be notified of an award within 90 days and to receive it within 180 days.

Award timeliness has improved overall since FY 2017. However, 20 of the 29 agencies we reviewed—including 12 within DOD—have not consistently issued awards on time. Eleven agencies issued at least 50% of their awards late in 2020. We made 22 recommendations to improve timeliness.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

Most federal agencies that participate in the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs did not consistently issue timely awards to small businesses in fiscal year 2020. The Small Business Administration's (SBA) SBIR/STTR policy directive recommends that most agencies issue such awards within 180 days of the closing date of the solicitation. On the one hand, timeliness across agencies has improved since fiscal year 2017. Agencies issued 69 percent of awards within the recommended time that year, compared to 82 percent of awards that we reviewed for fiscal year 2020. On the other hand, only nine of the 29 participating agencies were consistently on time in fiscal year 2020, meaning they issued at least 90 percent of their awards within 180 days. This lack of timeliness dates back at least 5 years: 20 agencies were routinely late during that period, issuing fewer than 90 percent of their awards on time for 3 or more of the 5 fiscal years since 2016 (see figure).

Total Number and Value of Late Awards Issued by Routinely Late Agencies

Total Number and Value of Late Awards Issued by Routinely Late Agencies

Nearly all of the agencies that were routinely late in issuing awards to small businesses have taken some steps to address risks to the timeliness of their awards. Such risks included not having standardized proposal review procedures and a lack of dedicated staff to issue awards. Agencies have taken some steps to improve timeliness by, for example, streamlining proposal reviews and the award contracting process. However, they have not fully addressed risks they identified or evaluated steps already taken and may continue to issue late awards until they do so.

Although the Department of Defense (DOD) has taken some steps to improve timeliness, it has not established a required pilot program. According to officials, DOD has not done so, in part, because it would be too difficult to standardize practices across the department. GAO found that 12 of the 13 DOD participating agencies are not consistently issuing timely awards to small businesses. Without addressing the pilot program requirements, or by not reporting to Congress if the requirements are infeasible, DOD may be missing an opportunity to obtain technologies more quickly, as well as sustain small businesses that can provide such technologies.

Why GAO Did This Study

SBIR and STTR participating agencies awarded over $3 billion to small businesses in fiscal year 2020 to develop and commercialize new technologies. Timely issuance of these awards can affect the speed with which small businesses receive funds and begin work, according to the SBA.

SBA's SBIR/STTR policy directive provides time frames for notification and award issuance—90 days for award notification and 180 days for award issuance. The Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) included a provision for GAO to review the timeliness of award notification and issuance. The Fiscal Year 2021 NDAA conference report included a provision for GAO to review instances of agencies not following through with awards. This report, GAO's third, examines, among other things: (1) agencies' timeliness in notification and issuance, (2) the extent to which agencies have addressed risks to award timeliness, and (3) the extent to which DOD established a pilot program to improve timeliness.

GAO analyzed SBIR and STTR award data, reviewed documentation, interviewed SBA officials, and sent a questionnaire to all 29 participating agencies and select small businesses.

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Recommendations

GAO is making 22 recommendations to 20 federal agencies, including to improve the timeliness of awards to small businesses. Agencies concurred with 20 recommendations. DOD partially concurred with one and did not concur with another recommendation that GAO maintains still is warranted.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Administration for Community Living The Administrator of the Administration for Community Living should evaluate the effectiveness of steps taken to improve SBIR award timeliness and take any necessary additional steps in order to consistently meet SBA award timeliness guidelines. (Recommendation 1)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Energy The Director of the Advanced Projects Research Agency-Energy should evaluate the effectiveness of steps taken to improve SBIR and STTR award timeliness and take any necessary additional steps in order to consistently meet SBA award timeliness guidelines. (Recommendation 2)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Agriculture The Secretary of Agriculture should evaluate the effectiveness of steps taken to improve SBIR award timeliness and take any necessary additional steps in order to consistently meet SBA award timeliness guidelines. (Recommendation 3)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Air Force The Secretary of the Air Force should evaluate the effectiveness of steps taken to improve SBIR and STTR award timeliness and take any necessary additional steps in order to consistently meet SBA award timeliness guidelines. (Recommendation 4)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army should evaluate the effectiveness of steps taken to improve SBIR award timeliness and take any necessary additional steps in order to consistently meet SBA award timeliness guidelines. (Recommendation 5)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army should evaluate the effectiveness of steps taken to improve STTR award timeliness and take any necessary additional steps in order to consistently meet SBA award timeliness guidelines. (Recommendation 6)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention The Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should evaluate the effectiveness of steps taken to improve SBIR award timeliness and take any necessary additional steps in order to consistently meet SBA award timeliness guidelines. (Recommendation 7)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Homeland Security The Assistant Secretary for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction should evaluate the effectiveness of steps taken to improve SBIR award timeliness and take any necessary additional steps in order to consistently meet SBA award timeliness guidelines. (Recommendation 8)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Defense The Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency should evaluate the effectiveness of steps taken to improve SBIR and STTR award timeliness and take any necessary additional steps in order to consistently meet SBA award timeliness guidelines. (Recommendation 9)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Defense The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs should evaluate the effectiveness of steps taken to improve the Defense Health Agency's SBIR and STTR award timeliness and take any necessary additional steps in order to consistently meet SBA award timeliness guidelines. (Recommendation 10)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Defense Logistics Agency The Director of the Defense Logistics Agency should evaluate the effectiveness of steps taken to improve SBIR and STTR award timeliness and take any necessary additional steps in order to consistently meet SBA award timeliness guidelines. (Recommendation 11)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Defense The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment should evaluate the effectiveness of steps taken to improve the Defense Microelectronics Activity's SBIR and STTR award timeliness and take any necessary additional steps in order to consistently meet SBA award timeliness guidelines. (Recommendation 12)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Defense Threat Reduction Agency The Director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency should evaluate the effectiveness of steps taken to improve SBIR and STTR award timeliness and take any necessary additional steps in order to consistently meet SBA award timeliness guidelines. (Recommendation 13)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Environmental Protection Agency The Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency should evaluate the effectiveness of steps taken to improve SBIR award timeliness and take any necessary additional steps in order to consistently meet SBA award timeliness guidelines. (Recommendation 14)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Food and Drug Administration The Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration should evaluate the effectiveness of steps taken to improve SBIR award timeliness and take any necessary additional steps in order to consistently meet SBA award timeliness guidelines. (Recommendation 15)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Defense The Director of the Joint Science and Technology Office for Chemical and Biological Defense should evaluate the effectiveness of steps taken to improve SBIR and STTR award timeliness and take any necessary additional steps in order to consistently meet SBA award timeliness guidelines. (Recommendation 16)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Missile Defense Agency The Director of the Missile Defense Agency should evaluate the effectiveness of steps taken to improve SBIR and STTR award timeliness and take any necessary additional steps in order to consistently meet SBA award timeliness guidelines. (Recommendation 17)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency The Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency should evaluate the effectiveness of steps taken to improve SBIR and STTR award timeliness and take any necessary additional steps in order to consistently meet SBA award timeliness guidelines. (Recommendation 18)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy should evaluate the effectiveness of steps taken to improve SBIR and STTR award timeliness and take any necessary additional steps in order to consistently meet SBA award timeliness guidelines. (Recommendation 19)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Transportation The Secretary of Transportation should evaluate the effectiveness of steps taken to improve SBIR award timeliness and take any necessary additional steps in order to consistently meet SBA award timeliness guidelines. (Recommendation 20)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Air Force The Secretary of the Air Force should document policies and procedures for the team tasked with addressing the previously unissued SBIR and STTR awards. (Recommendation 21)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Defense The Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering acting through the Principal Director of Defense Pricing and Contracting should establish a pilot program to improve timeliness or report to Congress on the infeasibility of these requirements. (Recommendation 22)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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