Why do voters who vote for term limits also routinely vote to return senior incumbents to office? Why don't they vote the bums out? The answer is straightforward. Voting your bum out is not a solution when what you want to do is oust the other districts' bums. For that you need term limits. [E Elhauge, CATO Policy Report 328, Dec 98]
Exxon's mobile laboratory performs on-the-spot fuel testing at service stations in Puerto Rico. There's a tiger roaming the tarmac jungles of Puerto Rico. A "Tiger Lab," that is--a specialized van equipped with a portable analyzer that verifies fuel quality using Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) analyses. ... the portable FOx FTIR analyzer from MIDAC Corp., Irvine, Calif., was used to measure fuel composition. This information can be extrapolated to identify fuel properties and components. "If you were to do this testing in the lab, it would take two days; we can do it in three minutes." Of course, FTIR spectroscopy is nothing new. What makes the Fox analyzer unique is its link to a computer that uses mathematical models to identify both chemical components and their properties, such as octane and distillation percentages. [Amy Merrick R&D Magazine, Nov 4] Small innovation. MIDAC claims the world's leader in innovative FTIR Spectrometer Systems. MIDAC was the first company to produce a small, rugged, low-cost FTIR in the 80's, and is now the pioneer in applications-specific FTIR systems. How did MIDAC do it with no SBIR when Advanced Fuel Research and Foster-Miller have millions of SBIR over a decade for a portable FTIR? Was the government was too dumb to know an economically dead product? If the government discovers its mistake, will it blame itself or AFR? In this case the government is Defense and Energy.
|Nice Theory; Shame It's Wrong. Congress and the beneficiaries of R&D programs sing a chorus that economic growth depends on R&D in our world-leading technology nation. Nice theory. Paul Segerstrom ["Endogeneous Growth Without Scale Effects", American Economic Review, Dec 98], though, notes that despite a doubling of the number of R&D workers 1968-1989, the economic growth rate correlates only with population growth and number of patents per capita is the same as 1968. Why? Good question. If we find that answer, we can maybe then explain why the situation is even worse in Germany and France where R&D has tripled and in Japan where it has quadrupled. Could those R&D beneficiaries have lied? Should we then impeach them? Segerstrom in typical academic style has developed a mathy model for economics journals that postulates that innovation gets tougher as technology progresses.
|In a striking admission of error, the Japanese government released a report yesterday blaming official inaction and delay over the past decade for triggering the country's deepest recession since World War II. The EPA pointed to several reasons for the failure to act more quickly: optimism that prices would recover; uniform delay by banks in dealing with bad loans; lack of a system for bad-loan disposal; and lack of transparency in the financial system. [Boston Globe, Dec 28] Notice that in the US, the government isn't responsible for the economy (no matter what the politicians claim when it is good). Government activism is frowned upon (except for corporate welfare like tax breaks, marketing orders, import restrictions, SBIR...).
|Only Philosophers, Pul-e-e-ease DOC seeks SBIR proposals for Automated Mediation of Ontological Perspectives because Collaborative efforts of a collection of individual stakeholders (e.g., engineering design) involves the manifestation and reconciliation of the individual "world views" of the stakeholders and the forging of a shared "world view" that facilitates and mediates their interaction. So, NIST wants development of tools and techniques needed to facilitate the interpretation and reconciliation of individual stakeholder perspectives and resulting in socially-constructed shared world view. How about a 69-cent comb for scratching one's head? Proposals due Jan 13. Phase 2 would never end and even the meager $200K for a DOC Phase 2 could keep this philosopher in groceries a long time.
|Market prospects? Who needs markets when the government will pay for open-ended philosophy? Not too worry, though. Each proposer will assert "tremendous" commercial potential as Intelligent Computing Technologies (Austin, TX) did for its 1998 Phase 1 on methodology and software for a production control code on the apparent assumption that the world of manufacturing is waiting expectantly for an automation SBIR. Or Intelligent Automation (Rockville, MD) with the dream of applying its already well funded neural nets to e-commerce. (If IAI's claims were real, it would already be so covered in money from past SBIRs with the same claim that it wouldn't have its hand out for a government dole.} OK, so it's in NIST's interest to believe such claims. Where you stand still depends on where you sit.
the ''politics of economic nonsense,'' as James Lister-Cheese of London-based Independent Strategy calls it. Europe's center-left governments are howling for more jobs yet won't pursue policies, such as liberalizing labor rules or slashing taxes, that might create them. [Business Week, Dec 28] The same politics of economic nonsense pervades SBIR. Politicians and agencies blather about commercial payoff while evading hard analysis and pursuing funding policies that assure little but nominal commercialization. If companies can get $750K with fanciful promises of commercialization, guess what government will see a lot of in proposals. And if government doesn't ask any hard questions about past commercialization, why should it expect anything but fanciful stories? But then, as long as Congress won't ask any hard questions either as long as the money flows into the beneficiary class, real commercialization will never appear and the politics of economic nonsense will continue.
Wanting It Both Ways. The politicians are at it again: wanting it both ways on high-tech business. They want SBIR and commercially competitive small businesses to export a lot of products but they must want foreign buyers to buy the products without taking delivery. Again the Washington talk is of restricting high-tech exports [Wall Street Journal, Dec 18] as a House committee wants to keep China from getting computers, machine tools, and other sensitive technology (whatever that means).
IBM is a good place to look for cutting-edge technologies. Consider its investment in research and development. Big Blue spent $5.5 billion in 1997 on R&D, far outstripping the likes of Compaq and Hewlett-Packard. Out of that research have come breakthroughs in holographic data storage, copper-chip technologies, tiny storage devices and advances in so-called "nanotechnology," which deals in computer parts that are minute. [Paul Gilster, Raleigh Observer & News, Dec 20] And what has come out of SBIR except temporary jobs? How many workers in small companies are now paid by a revenue stream from SBIR output? Let's have GAO ask that question in its next evaluation (don't bet on it) and then divide the result by the number of SBIR dollars to get the cost per job created. It'll probably be bigger than the big costs for jobs created by welfare funded employment and training programs.
DOE 99 SBIR
(Dec 2) Energy Saves Energy The Dept of Energy has quit its long-time fast Phase 2 SBIR program whereby the fast burners could propose earlier than the norm. Just as DOD's Fast Track is beginning to show results. Its 1999 Phase 1 solicitation closes March 2. Among the 40 topics it is looking for a way to get rid of 687,000 metric tons of depleted uranium hexafluoride. Note that every agency thinks its program is competitive and bureaucrats are always looking for the easiest way to do things. Energy says: Please note: (1) The technical topics are to be interpreted literally; DOE personnel are not permitted to further interpret the narrative description of the technical topics. (2) The award selection process is extremely competitive. Last year, only 1 out of 4 grant applications were awarded. Only those applications with the highest scientific/technical quality will be competitive. Nonsense; 25% selection is one of the highest in the government; only BMDO is consistently higher. And besides, selection rate by itself is NOT a measure of competitiveness. In fact, Energy should pat itself on the back for cutting the number of hopeless proposals. It saves energy for everyone concerned: bureaucrats, reviewers, and proposers. Only the SBA should weep over such stats. When you don't have a performance goal under which you could be fired, you opt for the easiest process that frees you for your 26 vacation days and ten holidays a year.
Ahoy, Navy Proposers! The Navy says, The Navy is very interested in companies that transition SBIR efforts directly into Navy and DOD programs and/or weapon systems. The proposing company should make reference to the attached success stories in the "Commercialization Strategy" section of their proposal so the evaluator knows to look for them. You're on your own to interpret "very interested". While the Navy has always wanted mission SBIRs, it is under pressure to do something commercial with its SBIR and so needs anecdotal evidence it can advertise.
Bucks County has grown into an affluent string of bedroom communities with more than 20,000 small businesses, from plastics to biotechnology to printing. [Washington Post, Dec 18] America's economic organization is shifting as old industries die a natural death, this case being big steel in Pennsylvania. Small business is filling every gap well in accordance with the idea of the Microcosm articulated by Gilder. Government's role is negligible although politicians love to blather about small business. Still, programs like SBIR throw money at small business, which might help some of them if it were intelligently directed. Funding research for advancing knowledge (which is what many mission agencies do) has no long term benefit for the company and probably little for society either. Only a seed program for the potentially explosive contributors to the nation's economy makes much economic sense. When the SBIR re-authorization debate starts in 1999, expect the entrenched interests who lap at the saucer of research milk to spout the platitudes that politicians love and to avoid the hard questions of economic sense.
Need an inflation indicator? The Civil Service pay for the grade I started in 1973 is now 2.8 times that pay.
Archibald and Finifter, two William & Mary academics sponsored by NASA Langley, have analyzed the SBIR program at Langley. They will present a paper at the American Economic Association annual meeting in a session devoted to commercialization by NASA. Although only drafts of two similar papers are available, they will likely conclude that SBIR's commercialization, however valuable it was, came at the expense of basic research. The commercialization success rates for Langley SBIRs were about the same as for all SBIRs - no surprise.
If One Incubator is Good, Three is Better. Brevard County (Florida) so loved the 66 jobs from 17 companies in its first incubator that it will do two more in Palm Bay and Melbourne. To get in, says Director Rainey, a company needs a viable business plan and the makings of a solid team. Tenants can stay up to three years. Part of the money comes from NASA which has been trying incubators for several years. [story from Orlando Business Journal, Dec 14]
One agency that does not seem to get it is the Small Business Administration. It seems to favor politics over progress. The BMDO SBIR is under regular attack, inside government, for requiring co-investment for its more mature Phase 2s. SBA, egged on by the producer's lobby of regular SBIR winners, wants BMDO to award SBIRs on scientific and technical merit alone (whatever that means). One could throw a dart in such a competition to pick winners (which is what many proposers think is happening anyway). Denying provable commercial potential (in favor of fantasy stories) is like a college football coach that doesn't want to stress the players. It would rather have the players write essays about winning the big game than to scout the opponent, train hard to the point of pain, get specialized coaches, and adopt new plays and strategies. Actually, the whole community would be better off if more agencies told their criteria publicly and held to them. Instead, the agencies publish mush and induce hopeless proposals from companies that have better things to do with their energies and money. But since SBA actually benefits from such hopeless activity, it has no incentive to help the companies. The more proposals that show up, the more SBA can claim that SBIR is highly competitive and therefore the more Congress needs to fund SBA to oversee it. SBA bureaucrats need $100K jobs too. Standard Washington game.
The Defense-first Republicans will have a slight problem in their 2000 campaign. They are outgunned 3-1 in candidates having military service. Gore-Kerry-Kerry v. McCain. One Medal of Honor Democrat, one POW Republican, and a guy named George Bush to complain about Saddam still in power. In typical American politics, Clinton will disarm the not-enough-Defense by proposing a DOD budget increase. Excuse me, sir, for what purpose?
REDUCING HEALTH CARE COSTS AND IMPROVING QUALITY OF CARE by OZTECH SYSTEMS INC, SAN BRUNO, CA. How's that for an SBIR title? Not even the US Congress can do that. NIH98 Winners
Former Federal Reserve Governor Lawrence B. Lindsey says President Clinton's pledge to veto any tax cuts until Congress "saves Social Security" is a recipe for economic disaster. [Barron's, Nov 30] Tax cuts spur the same kind of debate as government direct subsidy to innovation.
Navy has listed its summer SBIR winners, company names and topic numbers only.
The US Patent and Trademark Office completes its inline database with 2M patents 1976-1999, says Wired Dec98.
If it looks and smells like hype, it probably is hype. Especially when someone claims to have found a better way for diabetics to track their blood sugar... At least two dozen companies are working on an alternative to finger-prick. ... Warning: The woods are full of startups proffering medical miracles. Be skeptical. [Forbes, Oct 19] SBIR proposers for sensors, particularly IR sensors, loved to offer non-invasive bio-med testing as a spin-off. Government can get a reality check on such a claim (and on most other wondrous claims) by looking for a private investor willing to supplement government financing. After all, SBIR was invented to supplement private R&D.
The politicians crave power: free flows are a discipline on crazed governments, so control freaks from both left and right try to stamp them out. The best regulated parts of Britain are its graveyards - nothing moves. [The Sunday Times, Oct 11] Capital controls in Malaysia and the Communications Decency Act at home.