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Making Regulation and Research Work for Small Business

This blog is part of our “Road to Reauthorization” blog series, that builds off BPC’s latest small business report, Small Agency, Big Mandate: A Bipartisan Road Map to Modernizing SBA. The series provides small business owners, stakeholders, and advocates with updates and insight on congressional progress toward reauthorization of SBA. You can read the first three blogs in our series on congressional support for reauthorization here, here, and here. 

Within SBA lies a small but highly important independent office charged with being the voice of small business owners within the entire federal government: the Office of Advocacy. Led by a chief counsel for advocacy, this office represents the interests of small businesses in the regulatory process, produces research to inform government policy, and conducts outreach to small businesses. 

In April, BPC had the opportunity to discuss the Office of Advocacy’s role in the regulatory process and small business data collection with two former chief counsels: Dr. Winslow Sargeant and Thomas Sullivan, who served in the Obama and Bush administrations, respectively. Highlights from that conversation follow. 

Ensuring Compliance with the Regulatory Flexibility Act 

The Office of Advocacy is responsible for “monitoring and reporting on federal agency compliance” with the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA). Recognizing that small businesses have fewer resources to comply with federal regulations and may, therefore, be impacted in outsized ways, Congress charged federal agencies with considering the effects of their rulemaking on small businesses. The RFA requires agencies to consider regulatory alternatives if a regulation is expected to have a “significant economic impact” on a substantial number of small businesses. 

“There are folks that believe the Regulatory Flexibility Act is intended to stop regulation—and that’s actually just not the case.” – Tom Sullivan 

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“The goal [of the Regulatory Flexibility Act] is to make sure that the regulatory process is clear, transparent, and predictable.” – Dr. Winslow Sargeant 

“The Office of Advocacy is charged by law to take an independent voice on behalf of small businesses, whether or not that is consistent with the policies and regulatory proposals issued by the White House and the Administration.” – Tom Sullivan 

“We have to make sure that the RFA is strengthened. The strength of the Office, the tools that the Office has, are, one, the RFA, which was passed in 1980. And so that gives the Chief Counsel and those within the Office a roadmap in terms of how it should deal with regulatory structure and also deal with other agencies.” – Dr. Winslow Sargeant 

Bolstering Data Collection About Small Business 

High-quality and timely data is essential to informed policymaking. The Office of Advocacy’s important role in producing research based on public and private data can be strengthened, in part by greater data sharing within the federal government. 

“Strong regulations are based upon data.” – Dr. Winslow Sargeant 

Confirming a Chief Counsel 

The Office of Advocacy has been without a Senate-confirmed chief counsel for more than six years. President Trump’s nominee failed to win Senate confirmation and President Biden has not nominated someone to fill the position. Dr. Sargeant and Mr. Sullivan offered advice to the person next confirmed for this role. 

“I believe strongly that you need to have a confirmed Chief Counsel.” – Dr. Winslow Sargeant 

“Outreach is very, very important… to small businesses, that they know there is someone to hear from them… and make sure their voice is heard.” – Dr. Sargeant 

There has to be a trust relationship between the Office of Advocacy and the regulators.” – Tom Sullivan 

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