JUST IN: Rapid Innovation Fund Needs Funds, Official Says

By Laura Heckmann

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SAN ANTONIO, Texas — The Defense Department's Rapid Innovation Fund, established in 2011 and made a permanent program in 2017, was designed to accelerate fielding of innovative technologies from small businesses, but a lack of funding is hindering its ability to carry out its mission.

According to a 2020 DoD report on the effectiveness of the Rapid Innovation Fund program from 2011 through 2016, the fund made 670 awards in that period totaling $1.4 billion, and 88 percent of the awards went to small businesses.

However, in fiscal year 2023, the RIF program was transferred with no current budget — active or prior year funds — to the Office of Small Business Programs within the Office of the Undersecretary for Acquisition and Sustainment, according to slides shown at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Science & Engineering Technology Conference May 24.

The presentation also indicated that from its inception in 2011 through 2019, RIF received an average $250 million per year in appropriations, funding approximately 100 projects annually. After 2019, appropriations stopped.

“And for us, these things caused us a great deal of problems,” said David Busigo, senior advisor to the Office of Small Business Programs within the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Busigo’s presentation indicated the lack of funding prompted cancellations, impacted the execution of ongoing projects and forced close-out process initiations.

“Lack of funding endangers both current and out-year funding efforts,” the slides read. The shortfall could mean current projects failing to demonstrate and transition, participating components not able to adequately plan for resources and staffing, small businesses failing contractual requirements, a lack of performer payment, contractual litigation and formal inquiries.

The program received permission to get a reprogramming of funds for fiscal year 2023 to take care of its remaining 65 programs and help them transition, Busigo said. But the lack of funding has left the program far from its former glory, and “we want to bring it back.”

“I don't think people understand how important it was to help carry and help people navigate through the DoD,” he said.

He described the program’s assistance for small businesses not as hand holding but carrying them across the confounding phases and transitions of the Defense Department acquisitions system’s “Valley of Death.”

Busigo said that the “Valley of Death” really is “a situation where people don’t follow through on what we’ve invested. We should be able to help them across further than we have, in my opinion.”

He saw Congress agreeing with him “all those years,” but from 2017 to 2019, when instructed by Congress to budget for the program, “the Department, for whatever reason, had a difficult time doing that,” he said. “And so, they stopped funding us. We’ve been making pleas ever since then.”

With the program’s transition to acquisitions and sustainment in January, “we’re working to restore it and bring it back,” Busigo said.

That means not just restore it but exceed it. He said he wants to carry small businesses not just through phases three and four of the process, but through seven, eight and nine, and give them money to do it. “What we’re trying to do now is get into the acquisitions side of production.”

Busigo described his vision for the program’s funded future, including centralized contracts, an established timeline to preview expenditures and ensuring money is being utilized properly.

“I want to make sure that the services and components get all the help and support they need. I think we did a pretty good job in the past. I think we just need to do better,” he said.

The program is currently in the unknown, he said.

“We have to help RIF come back. We have to put it together because small businesses are depending on this. Midsize businesses are depending on us. Large companies are depending on us,” he said.


Topics: Defense Department

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