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NY Times: A New Web Site Warns Small-Business Owners of Coming Regulations
A New Web Site Warns Small-Business Owners of Coming Regulations

Washington, Feb 1 -

A New Web Site Warns Small-Business Owners of Coming Regulations
By Robb Mandelbaum, The New York Times

Long concerned that small businesses are over-regulated by the federal government, Republicans in Congress have enlisted business owners to make that case directly to the rule makers.

On Thursday, the G.O.P.-led House Small Business Committee unveiled a Web site, “Small Biz Reg Watch,” that highlights rule-making initiatives undertaken across the federal government that could affect small businesses and provides links so that business owners can read and then comment on the proposals.

“Most small businesses don’t have lawyers or lobbyists who focus on regulatory compliance,” Representative Sam Graves, Republican of Missouri and chairman of the committee, said in a news release that announced the site. “Not all regulations are bad, but many can be unnecessarily burdensome, and it is important that small companies express their concerns before a rule is finalized.”

The Small Business Administration has reported [PDF] that complying with regulations is often more expensive for small companies than their larger competitors. “Any time you can increase awareness among small businesses it’s a good thing,” said Daniel Bosch, manager of regulatory affairs for the National Federation of Independent Business, a small-business lobbying group. Those owners probably will not have the time to comment in as much detail as those who watch regulations for a living, he said, but “they still want their voices to be heard, especially on a proposed regulation that’s going to directly affect their business.”

The Web site debuted with six new rules. Two are a result of the Affordable Care Act, including one related to the so-called employer mandate. Two others are from the Environmental Protection Agency. As comment periods for new rules open, the committee will notify business owners through e-mail and other social media tools, as well as at events legislators hold in their districts around the country. A spokesman for the committee, D.J. Jordan, said that it had gathered 210,000 e-mail address through another interactive Web page it maintains.

Ines Mergel, a professor at Syracuse University who studies how Congress uses the Web and social media to connect with constituents, marveled at the new regulatory Web site. “It’s really remarkable that they’ve set this up and opened up the policy-making process,” she said. “Usually the decision-making process, and all the factors that lead to the final policy, are a black box for the public but also for everybody on the receiving end.” And normally when legislators use the Web or social media, she said, they are not genuinely interested in what their constituents think — “it’s all about me.”

“The question is going to be, how are small-business owners going to find this site,” said Leo Bottary, a vice president of Vistage International, a peer-advisory network for small-business chief executives. “My hope is that they have aggressive plans to make small-business owners aware that the site is available to them. I’ll certainly pass it on to my Vistage owners.

“I have no doubt that this will get used,” Mr. Bottary continued. “It’s much easier than writing a letter to your congressman.”

Like most Republicans, Representative Graves is skeptical of regulation — although Mr. Jordan was quick to point out in an e-mail, “We are not anti-regulation” — but the proposed rules are described in neutral language, and the committee makes no effort to draw attention to any particular part of a proposal or suggest how business owners should view it. “This initiative isn’t intended to manipulate the rule-making process by encouraging small businesses to mirror our viewpoint,” Mr. Jordan said. “We have an idea of how small businesses will view these regulations, and it most likely will be similar to our viewpoint. But sometimes not.”

Mr. Jordan said that the Small Business Committee has no political purpose in mind with the Web site. But Sarah Binder, who watches Congress from her perch as a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the site could help the committee advance its agenda. “It’s very easy to block things in Congress, but it’s much harder to get things done,” she said. The site, she added, “builds and documents a constituency for what the committee wants to do. It makes it more salient for people who might be affected. And they can contact their own members and encourage them to follow up and support whatever comes out of this committee.”