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  • Technology TransitionA Model for Infusion and Commercialization
  • Vernotto C. McMillan (bio)

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has, as part of its charter, the mission of transferring technologies developed for the space program into the private sector for the purpose of giving back to the American people the economical and improved quality-of-life benefits associated with the technologies developed. Indeed, for decades, this mission often has been a high-profile element in the agency’s portfolio. In recent years, considerable effort has been made to reengineer this program not only for transitioning technologies out of the NASA Mission Directorate programs, but also to infuse technologies into the Mission Directorate programs and leverage the impact of government and private-sector innovation. Beginning in 2000, NASA’s leadership decided that the mechanism by which the agency could achieve this goal was Business Process Re-engineering (BPR).

According to Manganelli and Klein (1994), “Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) is the rapid and radical redesign of strategic, value added business processes, and the systems, policies, and organizational structures that support them to optimize the work flow and productivity in the organization” (p. 1). In short, BPR is primarily about making radical changes to processes so that technology can be used primarily as an enabler. This means that employees are asked to forget how things were previously done, and to consider how things should be done to be more efficient and effective. Critics could argue that this approach leads agencies to reinvent the wheel, which can create new problems or inefficiencies. [End Page 17] Therefore it is useful to first consider the historical background and seek to understand the current processes used by a business or agency and why they were designed as they were.

The objective of this essay is to outline a business-process reengineering approach that NASA utilized to reinvent its technology transfer activities, an approach that resulted in the creation of a model bringing together industry, government, and commercialization strategies. By integrating these elements, NASA has dramatically increased the probability of successful technology development, technology infusion into the Mission Directorate programs, and commercialization into the private sector.

Organizational Background

The Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer (FLC) was organized in 1974 and formally chartered by Congress in 1986 to facilitate federal agency technology transfer in the United States (Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer, 2008a). According to the FLC (2008b),

technology transfer is the process by which technology or knowledge developed in one place or for one purpose is applied and used in another. This broad definition covers a wide variety of procedures or mechanisms that can be used to transfer technology and is not necessarily restricted to federal activities. However, it should be noted that the federal government has for many years been actively supporting and encouraging technology transfer with respect to federally generated technologies. Therefore, the phrase “technology transfer” most often refers specifically to transfers occurring between federal laboratories and any nonfederal organization, including private industry, academia, and state and local governments.

(pp. 1–2)

Congress has enacted various laws to facilitate government agency technology transfer with academia and the private sector. These include the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 1980 (P.L. 96–480), which reorganized technology transfer and development programs in the Department of Commerce; the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 (P.L. 96–517), which sought to encourage transfer and commercialization by allowing universities and their faculties and others to control intellectual property resulting from federally funded research; and the Federal Technology Transfer Act of 1986 (P.L. 99–502), which amended the Stevenson-Wydler Act to make technology transfer the mission of every national laboratory (Rudolph, [End Page 18] n.d.; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007). And finally, Executive Order 12591 (1987) required federal laboratories and agencies to assist universities and the private sector by transferring technical knowledge. The order also directed federal agency and laboratory heads to identify and encourage individuals who could act as conduits of information among federal laboratories, universities, and the private sector. The intent was to underscore the government’s commitment to technology transfer, and to encourage government-owned, government-operated (GOGO) laboratories to enter...


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