For years, small businesses have complained to Congress that compliance with federal regulations costs them much more than it does the Fortune 500 crowd, who can afford guidance from $350-an-hour K Street lawyers. Entrepreneurs may have to ditch that particular lament, though, if the National Small Business Regulatory Assistance Act of 2001 (H.R. 203), which the House Small Business Committee passed in August, becomes law.
Currently, the 1,000 or so Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) nationwide help entrepreneurs with the operational challenges of starting and growing their businesses. The new bill would create a pilot program in which the SBA designates two SBDCs in each of 10 regions to dispense regulatory advice free of charge. Don Wilson, president of the Association of Small Business Development Centers, says the selected centers will focus on educating entrepreneurs about complicated laws, such as the Americans With Disabilities Act, so they don't violate the law unwittingly.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY), calls for Congress to appropriate an extra $5 million over and above the SBDCs' current budget to fund the 20 pilot programs-which would be a relief for SBDCs facing considerable budget pressure. President Bush wanted to keep the federal SBDC appropriation at $87.8 million in fiscal 2002 (which began on October 1), the same amount budgeted for SBDCs in fiscal 2001. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), chairman of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, was trying to increase that to $105 million. Legislators hadn't settled on a final figure at press time.
Stephen Barlas is a freelance business reporter who covers the Washington beat for 15 magazines.
- Association of Small Business Development Centers
(703) 764-9850, www.asbdc-us.org