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Supporters of the controversial funding category are fighting efforts to keep its budget from growing and trying to increase applications in an attempt to mollify critics.
Funded by a growing "tax" on federal R&D funds that will total almost $1.2 billion in fiscal year 1997, Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants are becoming increasingly controversial. Intended to help companies with fewer than 500 employees commercialize new technologies, the program has come under fire from academic researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health. NIH is one of several federal agencies reserving a portion of its R&D budget for SBIR-applied research conducted by private firms.

Some scientists are displeased that, as mandated in Congress's 1992 reauthorization of the SBIR program, the portion of NIH's R&D budget designated for SBIR is set to grow from 2 percent in 1996 to 2.5 percent in 1997. Critics charge that funded...

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