Do entrepreneurs have reason to worry? The top tier of leadership in the Bush administration and the new Congress is notable for the absence of people with either small-business backgrounds or records of sustained small-business advocacy.
Rep. Donald Manzullo (R-IL), a lawyer, takes over as chairman of the House Small Business Committee. Like its Senate counterpart, chaired again by Sen. Christopher Bond (R-MO), the House committee influences the budget and programs of the SBA.
Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA) takes over as the new chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which is responsible for pensions and taxes. Because his district is heavily agricultural and is trying to lure big-box economic development heavyweights, small-business concerns don't appear to be high on Thomas' agenda. However, he did at least vote for Rob Portman's (R-OH) pension reform bill, which had many provisions for small-businesses, and co-sponsored the bill reinstating the installment accounting method for accrual-method taxpayers, another small-business favorite. Trent Duffy, a spokesperson for the Ways and Means Committee, could not say whether Thomas has any particular small-business items on his agenda.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the new Senate Finance Committee chairman, is Thomas' Senate counterpart on taxes, pensions and the IRS and represents a state at least as agricultural as Thomas' congressional district. Although he has no small-business experience, Grassley did get a shot at a key Chamber of Commerce issue as a member of the Judiciary Committee. His bankruptcy reform bill passed in the House and the Senate, but Clinton vetoed it.
The news at Treasury is hardly encouraging for entrepreneurs. The new Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill, is as big business as they come, having made his name as CEO of Alcoa Inc. Working closely with O'Neill is Mitchell Daniels, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget and former senior vice president of corporate strategy and policy at Eli Lilly & Co.
Elaine L. Chao, the new Labor Secretary, brings very little business experience to her post. She worked in the Transportation Department during the elder George Bush's presidency. She left to head the Peace Corps in 1991; jumped to United Way of America to take the position of president and CEO in 1992; and then went to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, in 1996.
Not all small-business advocates see the new faces as cause to worry. "Just because they came from big business, you can't extrapolate that they will not be concerned about small business," says Dorothy Coleman, vice president of tax policy at the National Association of Manufacturers. "There is more commonality of interests among small and big business than there is division."
Maybe so, but if entrepreneurs had their wish, they'd probably prefer to see the big seats filled with the likes of Rep. John Boehner (R-OH). As it is, they'll have to settle for Boehner's influence as new chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, which oversees issues like OSHA ergonomics regu-lations, the federal "blacklisting" rule (see below), health-care reform, family and medical leave, work-force training, stock options for employees and EEOC issues. Boehner is the voice of entrepreneurial experience. Before Congress, he bought a struggling manufacturer's rep company in West Chester, Ohio, and turned it into a vibrant business.
Far and away: Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), which the Clinton administration announced in December 2000, allows federal procurement officers to deny companies contracts if there's evidence of "repeated, pervasive or significant violations" of federal or state laws. The move aggravated several small-business groups, which say the FAR casts too wide a net in allowing federal procurement officers to consider even allegations of breaking federal rules in their contracting decisions.
Stephen Barlas is a freelance business reporter who covers the Washington beat for 15 magazines.