Chairman Rockefeller's Remarks on Waste, Fraud and Abuse in the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program

August 6, 2009

JDR Head ShotWASHINGTON, D.C.--One of my top priorities as chairman of the Commerce Committee is maintaining our country’s role as the global leader in technological innovation.
It’s no secret that to maintain our leadership in the global economy, we must continually invest in new ideas.  And our investment dollars have to come from both the private and public sectors.
One of the federal government’s successful technology innovation programs is called the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which supports scientists and entrepreneurs who have great ideas, but haven’t been able to develop their ideas far enough to attract the attention of private investors. 
This program has a good track record.  A NASA SBIR contract led to the development of the water filtration system used on space missions.  Another SBIR-funded project helped develop the de-icing systems used today on many of our aircraft.  There are many more examples of innovative products and technologies that started as SBIR research proposals.    
I want to make it clear: I firmly believe that programs like SBIR are crucial to our country’s national security and our ability to compete in the global economy.  I support investing in basic research and working with the private sector to develop new technologies.
But here’s what I don’t support. 
I don’t support handing over federal research dollars to businesses that have lied to the government about their qualifications or their research capabilities. 
And I don’t support funding businesses that are willing to accept taxpayer dollars for research they haven’t actually done. 
Unfortunately, today we are going to hear stories about this kind of conduct.  We are going to hear that some of the businesses that won these awards didn’t do the work they promised.  They committed fraud against the government plain and simple.
We don’t expect that every research project we support will lead to the next breakthrough technology.  But we do expect the people who receive these funds to use them carefully and honestly. It is that simple.  
The federal government’s scientific research dollars are scarce and precious. And so funding research is a zero-sum game: Every time NASA, or the Department of Defense, or the National Science Foundation awards money to a dishonest business, those agencies miss an opportunity to support an honest man or woman with an idea that might make our country safer or our economy stronger.
I want to welcome our witnesses and thank them for testifying today. I am looking forward to hearing from Mr. Al Longhi, a businessman who found himself involved in a small technology company that was ripping off the government.  He did the right thing, not the easy thing, and he’s going to tell us his story. 
I would like to read one sentence from Mr. Longhi’s testimony, because I think it explains why today’s hearing is so important.  He says:
“Technological advances in energy, medical, defense and many other areas have been and will continue to be one of the fundamental strengths of our country.”  
I couldn’t agree with you more, Mr. Longhi.  And so every research dollar we lose to waste, fraud and abuse turns one of our country’s great strengths into an enormous weakness.  We can’t let it happen.
I yield back the balance of my time.