Politico: Supporters, critics square off on small business regulations

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Washington, Jan 31, 2013 | comments

Supporters, critics square off on small business regulations
By Erica Martinson, Politico

While fighting federal regulations often falls to big business, new efforts are afoot from the left and the right to shine a light on the regulatory process for the little guys.

On Thursday, House Small Business Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) announced an initiative —“Small Biz Reg Watch” — to keep small businesses aware of federal regulations coming down the pike and advise them on submitting comments to agencies.

Meanwhile, pro-regulation advocacy groups are lavishing negative attention on a federal office designed to do just that: the Small Business Administration’s Advocacy Office. In reports this week, two groups accuse the office of attempting to undermine government research on cancer-causing chemicals.

But Graves says the SBA is doing a fine job of looking out for the interest of small businesses, and his committee plans to use its own reach to supplement that.

“Most small businesses don’t have lawyers or lobbyists who focus on regulatory compliance, like larger corporations may have,” Graves said.

The committee will send out alerts to its listserv and look for other ways to convey information about regulations.

“Not all regulations are bad, but many can be unnecessarily burdensome and small companies should communicate what impact a regulation would have on their business before it’s promulgated,” Graves said. He added that regulatory costs for small businesses are much higher than for large businesses.

The committee plans to keep small businesses apprised of some of the wonkier side of bureaucratic regulating — such as Federal Register notices and Regulations.gov, the federal government’s means of taking public comment on regulatory actions.

That’s similar to the job of the Office of Advocacy, which describes its mission as advancing “the views and concerns of small business before Congress, the White House, the federal agencies, the federal courts and state policymakers.”

“I fully support the mission of the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy,” Graves told POLITICO, adding that the office encourages federal agencies to follow the Regulatory Flexibility Act, which aims to lessen burdens on small business.

“If federal agencies followed the law's intent more closely, our economy would be doing much better than it is now,” he said.

But the push from the House follows pull from another direction: On Tuesday, the Center for Progressive Reform and the Center for Effective Government went after the advocacy office.

The Center for Progressive Reform charged in a report that “this tiny and largely unaccountable office has quietly become a highly influential player in the federal regulatory system, wielding extraordinary authority over the workplace safety standards employers must follow, the quantity of air pollution factories can emit, and the steps that food manufacturers must take to prevent contamination of the products that end up on the nation’s dinner tables.”

The Center for Effective Government, meanwhile, said the office’s reach is longer than intended, and that it intervenes in scientific assessments that are supposed to be out of its purview.

“Scientific assessments are not ‘rules’ and do not regulate small business, yet the Office of Advocacy decided to comment on technical, scientific assessments of the cancer risks of formaldehyde, styrene, and chromium,” CEG says in its report. “By its own admission, Advocacy lacks the scientific expertise to evaluate the merits of such assessments.”

CEG says the office didn’t raise any concerns specific to small businesses and largely relied on talking points from trade associations and large chemical companies. No small businesses even asked the office to intervene in the cancer assessments or objected to them, the report says.

The group alleges that some of the office’s actions may violate the law, and asks Congress to request a Government Accountability Office investigation and “exert more rigorous oversight of its activities.”

No dice from Graves, though. His office sees the reports as the arguments of pro-regulatory groups, and has no plans to ask for an investigation.

The SBA is reviewing the report and has no comment, spokesman Patrick Morris said Wednesday.

The National Federation of Independent Business came out in support of the office on Wednesday, saying the reports are off-base and focus on minor, isolated episodes.

“In our many years of working with the Office of Advocacy we have found them to take great pains to ensure they are representing the views of small businesses that otherwise would have no voice in the rulemaking process,” said federation Senior Vice President Susan Eckerly.


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