As Congress considers the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) this week, political enthusiasts can look forward to plenty of minor dramas playing out on the House floor and in Senate committee rooms.  Small businesses might be more excited about a provision of the NDAA that is unlikely to make the headlines: the prospect of a five-year extension of the popular Rapid Innovation Program.

The Rapid Innovation Program was created five years ago as “a collaborative vehicle for small businesses to provide the department with innovative technologies that can be rapidly inserted into acquisition programs that meet specific defense needs.”  Each year, Department of Defense agencies identify pressing operational requirements and publish them in a broad agency announcement.  Interested bidders offer white papers, which Department representatives evaluate on a “go” or “no-go” basis.  Offerors whose white papers receive a “go” rating are invited to submit full proposals for further evaluation and decision.  The program offers funding of up to $3 million over two years.  From FY2011 to FY2015, the GAO estimates that the government will have signed contracts for 435 projects, representing more than $1.3 billion. 

The Program was initially authorized for just five years, but the House Armed Services Committee included a five-year extension in the text of the NDAA it recently reported to the full House.  Success to the government is measured by the successful transition of technology developed in the Program to government acquisitions or to the commercial marketplace.  In the accompanying report, the Committee wrote: “In the past, the committee has expressed concern that the Department has not put sufficient emphasis on technology transition, but the renewed focus on warfighting experimentation to support transition and the effective use of the Rapid Innovation Program indicate that some progress may have been made.”  At the same time, the GAO issued a report noting that of the forty-four (44) completed projects started under the Program in 2011, about half had transitioned to an acquisition program, a military user, a prime contractor, or the commercial marketplace by 2014.  The GAO report concluded, however, that additional data should be collected to measure the success of the Program in helping industry use cutting-edge technology to meet some of the armed forces’ most urgent requirements.

This year’s broad agency announcement was posted to on April 15th.  Requirements range from the mundane (Optimize sailor maintenance work time and efficiency, minimize administrative tasks, and improve sailor technical expertise”) to the macabre (Digital Human Body Model for Injury Assessment in Kinetic Events … Incorporating a human body model into the blast models assessing vehicle performance [to] allow for definition of injury risks to both male and female occupants of various sizes”), offering opportunities for small businesses across a wide range of fields in the defense industry.

Small businesses should look closely at the list of requirements for potential work.  Based on the House version of the NDAA, they can also expect this fertile source of development funding to continue for at least five more years.