Attempts to shield the SBA Office of Advocacy from the influence of political interests in Washington were rewarded in late March with the passage of Senate bill S.395.
The Senate legislation gives the office an independent budget line and prohibits any influence from the White House when it comes to appointing assistant and regional advocates. The choice of each advocate would be the exclusive preserve of the Chief Counsel for Advocacy, a political appointee. Advocates must be "from civilian life" to show that they have a small-business rather than a government background.
Underlining the need for the bill, Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-MO) explains that funding for the Office of Advocacy comes out of the SBA's Salaries and Expense Account. So if the SBA budget is tightened under spending plans proposed by the administration, the Office of Advocacy could be affected negatively.
In 1990, according to Bond, the office employed 70 full-time staff members. Today, the allocation is 49, and fewer are actually on board as a result of a longstanding hiring freeze in effect at the SBA. Says Bond, "The independence of the office is diminished when the Office of Advocacy staff is reduced to allow for increased staffing for new programs and initiatives in other areas of the SBA, at the discretion of the administrator."
The bill now moves on from the Senate to the House of Representatives, where Rep. Donald Manzullo (R-IL), chairman of the House Small Business Committee, will introduce a version of it.
Stephen Barlas is a freelance business reporter who covers the Washington beat for 15 magazines.
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