WASHINGTON -- Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Ranking Member on the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, today announced that the Air Force has released $175 million that is allocated for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants.

“It’s hard to believe that with jobs and critical technologies on the line, the Pentagon was once again dragging its feet. This development is great news for small high-tech companies,” Kerry said. “The Air Force is the largest source of these funds in the Pentagon, and we must ensure that small businesses receive their due. For many small businesses, this is their only opportunity for R&D contracts.”

In early February, small businesses approached Kerry’s office to express their concerns that the Air Force was indefinitely withholding $175 million of its obligated SBIR funds for fiscal year 2005. After an inquiry from Kerry’s office, the Air Force quickly responded and announced that it would be releasing a portion of the withheld funds. Then, after additional oversight inquiries and a meeting last week with Kerry’s office, the Air Force announced yesterday that they had released all remaining SBIR funds.

This is not the first time the Pentagon has been slow to disperse SBIR funds to small businesses. In January 2002, Kerry successfully fought attempts to cut in half SBIR funds for small businesses through the Missile Defense Agency (MDA). That year, Kerry’s actions saved high-tech firms from losing about $74 million in R&D funds. Then in December 2003, Kerry succeeded in getting the MDA to award $90 million in SBIR funds that the agency had failed to disperse.

In 1982, Congress established a government-wide policy to encourage small business innovation by creating the SBIR program. Any federal agency or department that spends over $100 million in R&D is required by law to award 2.5 percent of its R&D budget to small businesses through a highly competitive application process. This includes the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and Transportation, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation. The Air Force’s total SBIR funding is $318 million.