|Manufacturing Extension Partnership: Centers Cite Benefits from Funding Change, but Impacts Hard to Distinguish from Other Factors|
Most Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) centers reported that the January 2017 American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (AICA) cost share adjustment has helped them serve manufacturers, especially very small (i.e., less than 20 employees) and rural ones. The AICA adjusted the cost share ratio to remain at 1:1, that is, $1 of nonfederal contributions for each $1 of federal assistance. Before the adjustment, MEP centers' cost share requirement increased over the course of their cooperative agreements from 1:1 to 2:1, requiring centers to obtain a greater proportion of revenue from nonfederal sources. In GAO's survey of all 51 MEP centers, 44 centers cited positive effects of the adjustment on center operations, such as helping to improve center services or better reach underserved manufacturers. Also, 41 centers indicated the adjustment increased their financial stability, which some centers stated has allowed them to focus less on revenue generation and to serve very small and rural manufacturers. However, some MEP center officials observed that the AICA cost share adjustment impact is hard to distinguish from other factors, such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST) recompetition of nearly all centers' cooperative agreements between fiscal years 2014 and 2017. The recompetition increased the level of federal financial assistance for most centers and reset many centers' cost share ratio from 2:1 to 1:1 prior to the 2017 adjustment. Still, center officials said that if the cost share requirement reverted to what it was prior to the 2017 adjustment, centers would be less able to serve manufacturers, particularly very small and rural ones.