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Eat into Basic Research Support

A plan to increase research funding for small business by increasing set-asides from the research budgets of 11 federal agencies is bringing together the US House of Representatives science committee and science agencies, groups that are often at odds, ScienceInsider reports. Both the House science committee and science agencies say that the plan would eat into the support for basic academic research.

Both the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are funded through taxes on the research budgets of agencies like the National Institutes of Health. Bills before Congress propose to increase those set-asides from 3 percent to 6 percent by 2028 for SBIR in the Senate version of the bill or to 4.5 percent by 2022 in House version and from 0.45 percent to 1 percent by 2028 for STTR in the Senate bill or to 0.65 percent in House version.

"Any increases would necessarily reduce our nation's primary investments in basic research at a time when US global leadership is threatened," committee chair Representative Lamar Smith (R–Texas) said during a hearing, according to ScienceInsider. "So it is important [that this committee] examine if the current funding levels — the taxes on basic research — are hurting fundamental science."

As ScienceInsider notes, since agency research budgets have been increasing, so too have funding for SBIR and STTR, amounts that would only increase if larger portions were set aside.

"Dedicating a larger proportion of NIH's extramural research dollars to these two specific programs would threaten the diversity of the research portfolio when the portfolio's diversity is one of the major keys to its success," added Michael Lauer, head of external research at NIH, at the hearing. "I think it would be more effective to increase overall R&D budgets, so that all programs benefit."