President Bush has put an entrepreneur in the driver's seat to rev up U.S. manufacturing, giving the appointee a route that passes through small factories around the country.
Bush nominated Al Frink, co-founder and executive vice president of Fabrica International to be the new Assistant Secretary of Manufacturing and Services, a position Bush created last September and has had trouble filling. Fabrica International manufactures carpets and rugs in Santa Ana, California, and employs more than 400 people.
Bush's nomination of Frink comes on the heels of his February Executive Order for federal agencies to emphasize manufacturing in the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. The order requires the heads of federal agencies to report annually to the SBA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy on the extent to which contracts within these two programs are going for manufacturing research.
One leading Democratic House member casts a skeptical eye at the order. "If the Bush administration were really dedicated to saving manufacturing jobs, it wouldn't cut funding for programs that actually create them, like SBIR and STTR," says Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY). "In his Fiscal Year 2005 budget proposal, President Bush targets portions of these programs for termination. The administration has also enabled agencies to opt out of SBIR and STTR, allowing millions of dollars intended for [these programs] to be redirected to other initiatives."
The SBA's Doug Heye answers that the Bush administration is consolidating the SBIR and STTR programs with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) program. "They will be easier to administer within the SBDCs," he explains. He also points out that the SBIR and STTR have received inconsistent funding from Congress and adds that their funding levels won't necessarily diminish.
Stephen Barlas is a freelance business reporter who covers the Washington beat for 15 magazines.