SBA Administrator McMahon makes first appearance before a Congressional committee

By Jennifer White, WIPP Government Relations

Small Business Administration Administrator Linda McMahon talked about her plans for the agency during her first official hearing with the House Small Business Committee on April 5. From the start, Administrator McMahon made clear that her goal is to raise the profile of the agency, in hopes of renewing the spirit of entrepreneurship in America.

“Becoming administrator has been a lot like assuming the position of CEO – trying to evaluate employees and practices and figuring out what’s working and what’s not. My first town hall address was to let folks know that I want this to be the best SBA that’s ever been,” said McMahon.

Throughout the hearing, committee members showed interest in working with the administrator and addressed hard-hitting topics for WIPP – including access to capital, healthcare, tax reform, and regulations. Below are highlights:

  • Access to capital
    • In response to inquiries on improving access to capital for women, McMahon said one of her main focuses would be to ensure that more women apply for loans. McMahon plans on providing counseling to women entrepreneurs creating a business plan. She also said she believes SBA can work to increase the number of women in lending positions when asked about the lack of Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) investments to women-owned firms. SBICs are licensed by the SBA to supply small businesses with both equity and debt financing. Increasing women in lending positions is a point highlighted in the WIPP Economic Blueprint.
  • Healthcare
    • The administrator supports the creation of association plans across state lines offered to small businesses, which WIPP supports. McMahon, referring to HR 1101, which recently passed the House, believes this change to the healthcare market would reduce premiums for small business owners.
  • Tax reform
    • Administrator McMahon wants small businesses to receive similar tax treatment as large businesses, another position WIPP outlines in its Economic Blueprint.
  • Regulations
    • The administrator supports reforming regulations to reduce the burden and costs placed on small businesses. She believes the first step is to look at what regulations are really necessary and go from there. WIPP cites the need for reliable policies and regulations in the Economic Blueprint, as well.

Only two months into her position, the administrator is in the early stages of making the progress she wants to. But, between her enthusiasm for the positions outlined here and the committee’s readiness to work with the administration, it is certain there will be lots to watch for in the coming year.

To watch the full hearing and read Administrator McMahon’s written testimony, click here.

The confusion surrounding the federal budget debate

By Ann Sullivan, WIPP Chief Advocate

Recently, WIPP’s President Jane Campbell and I gave a webinar on the federal budget process, which attempted to explain all of the moving parts in the federal budget, including what it means to businesses and the organizations they support. Below I have laid out the steps in the process as simply as possible.

Immediate action item

  1. The funding for Fiscal Year (FY)17 ends on April 28, 2017, therefore Congress must act on or before that date to keep funding the government for the remainder of FY17, which ends on September 30, 2017. FY17 has been funded through a Continuing Resolution (CR), meaning that FY17 has been funded at FY16 levels. While under a CR, federal agencies cannot award grants or initiate new program starts.

Funding options for FY17

(a) A Continuing Resolution until the Fiscal Year ends, or

(b) An “omnibus” appropriations bill to fund the rest of the year. Omnibus simply means putting the 10 remaining agency appropriations into one big bill. The Defense Department and the Veterans Affairs Department bill were signed into law, so there are 10 agencies remaining.

The president can request supplemental appropriations in the current fiscal year, which is exactly what President Trump did in March. He requested $30 billion more for FY17 funding for defense and homeland security. Congress will decide whether or not to honor his request, which would be rolled into the FY17 Omnibus bill.

Longer-term action items

  1. Funding for FY18—which starts October 1, 2017. The House Appropriations Committee is responsible for starting the funding process, and revenue bills must start in the House. The committee is just now starting hearings on funding programs, and subcommittees of this committee have responsibility for certain federal agencies. For example, the Treasury and SBA are funded by the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee. The three-part process is as follows: Subcommittees act first, the full Appropriations Committee considers, and then the bills go to the House floor for action.
  2. Raising the debt ceiling will be required sometime this fall. Why does that matter? If it is not raised, the federal government defaults on its debt, which would send ripples through the global economy.
  3. The FY18 Budget Resolution provides a high-level set of budget numbers that appropriators work against. Much like your own budget, the federal budget is anticipated spending, not what is actually spent (appropriations). Ideally, the Congress should agree on a resolution before it does appropriations, but that does not seem likely.

The interplay between the president’s proposed budget for FY18 (yes, there will be two: 1) a blueprint released in March and 2) a more detailed budget in May) and appropriations is worth an explanation. What we all learned in civics class, “the president proposes and the Congress appropriates,” sets the tone. The media frequently forgets to include this fact in their coverage of the budget, suggesting that the president has the sole power to determine the budget. In fact, he does not. He can only use his bully pulpit to ask for funding priorities. Generally speaking, the Congress, especially if it is from the same party as the president, tries to accommodate his requests. Side noteI say “he” because there has never been a “she.”

In his proposed budget, President Trump suggested cutting many programs that have powerful constituencies, causing widespread alarm among recipients of these programs. While this is certainly a wake-up call for many, the real alarm bells should be directed at the appropriators.

Which leads me to WIPP’s strategy with respect to FY18 funding of programs that support women entrepreneurs. We have concentrated on the appropriators and will continue to urge support. Members on the House Appropriations Subcommittees are the first line of defense and later, the full Appropriations Committee. After finishing with the House, we will turn our attention to the Senate Appropriations Committee. The last stop is floor action.

All told, the season to advocate on behalf of appropriations started in March, and will continue through the rest of the year. The Congress will continue to engage constituents with respect to budget decisions. On April 7, Congress will begin a two-week recess. Legislators will be in their home districts and conducting meetings. Echoing WIPP’s funding requests would be much appreciated. If you are a government contractor, consider voicing the need for stability in the federal budget.  If you support local nonprofit organizations, take a look at federal support dollars and speak up.

The time is now.

Rock, Paper, Sciss… Paper, Paper, Paper

By Jennifer White, WIPP Government Relations

The House Small Business Committee wants to know: are burdens on small businesses from paperwork being reduced by the Paperwork Reduction Act? According to Sam Batkins, the director of regulatory policy at American Action Forum, the short answer is they are not.

The Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) was designed to reduce the total amount of paperwork the federal government imposes on private businesses and citizens. In order to achieve this goal, it imposes procedural requirements on agencies that wish to collect information from the public. However, between the sheer volume of instructions that accompany some paperwork, and the lack of resources at various agencies, it doesn’t seem to be working.

Look, for example, at the Internal Revenue Service. According to Frank Cania, founder and president of driven HR, the IRS is responsible for more paperwork than any other agency. “Small businesses fall into a cycle of having to file new forms every time an honest mistake is made in order to avoid IRS fines,” said Mr. Cania, who testified on behalf of Society for Human Resource Management.

For perspective on how time consuming and complex some of the documents can be, he explained to the committee that while an I-9 Form is only two pages long, the instructions are 15 pages long, and the instruction manual is “a slim 69 pages long.”

According to Sally Katzen, professor at NYU Law and senior advisor at Podesta Group, another key related issue with an agency like the IRS is that lack of resources to help individuals with compliance. “Used to, you could call and get someone to answer on the third ring,” she said. “Now, given the cuts to the IRS, the waiting period is well over two hours if you bother to stay on the phone. They’ve had to give up almost all of their assistance with compliance.”

When asked by the committee what Congress can do to make it better, Ms. Katzen answered that the key is investing in resources. “Somebody has to talk to somebody if you want the system to work. You need to put in the resources to enable that to happen.”

It is important for agencies to be able to collect information because it not only aids government decision making, but is often redistributed to the public which some find critical for making business decisions. However, there has to be a way to reduce the volume of paperwork. “There is only so much agencies can do. Only Congress can change the statutory requirements,” Ms. Katzen concluded.

To see the written testimony and witness list from the hearing, click here.

Rolling Back the Regulations

By Ann Sullivan, WIPP Chief Advocate

As we’ve said before, the 115th Congress is off to the races. While the Senate has been busy confirming the president’s nominees, the House has been diligently working to limit agency reach by rolling back specific rules.

Below are highlights of two rules you should know about. We are tracking them, so you don’t have to.

OSHA Recordkeeping Rule

Give me the basics:

  • 12/16/16: The Occupational Health and Safety Administration finalized a rule extending the timeframe that employers have to keep records of workplace injuries or incidents from six months to five years.
  • The rule allowed an agency to cite employers for record-keeping violations that go as far back as five years.

Why should I care?

  • The rule could add a significant cost to the management of workplace safety and workers’ compensation programs for employers, and does nothing to improve workplace safety and health.

What’s the status?

  • Last week, the House halted the rule from taking effect.
  • This rule repeal now heads to the Senate where it is expected to pass.
  • More information about the repeal of the rule can be found in WIPP’s statement here.

Contractor Blacklisting Rule

Give me the basics:

  • The rule finalized in October required contractors and subcontractors to disclose violations of 14 federal labor and employment laws, and state equivalents, when bidding on a contract. Requiring a DOL employee to clear prospective contractors would add an additional step, resulting in likely losing the award.
  • While a federal judge halted implementation of most of the rule in October, this Congressional repeal would halt the rule for good.

Why should I care?

  • WIPP’s official comment on the rule highlighted concerns that the rule went too far, and may do more harm than good

What’s the status?

  • This week, the Senate followed the House in voting to repeal the U.S. Department of Labor Fair Pay, Safe Workplaces rule, also known as the Contractor Blacklisting Rule.
  • President Trump is expected to sign the repeal into law

March Madness: A Policy Version—The Elite Eight

By Ann Sullivan, WIPP Chief Advocate

For many years, my son Matt and I watched March Madness together (that was until he moved to Los Angeles). Not only are many of the games squeakers, I love the upsets and Cinderella teams that emerge during the tournament. Half of the fun is filling out the brackets and guessing which teams will move forward.

So, in honor of March madness, we bring you March policy madness. We have created a policy bracket of the issues we expect will make it past the first round of Congressional action. Just for fun.

WIPP Works Bracket March 2017.png 

Here’s an explanation of the Policy Brackets:

Upper Left: Healthcare vs. Border Wall

President Trump’s Executive Actions have identified both repeal of Obamacare and the potential construction of a border wall. Congressional attention is focused on repealing and or replacing the Affordable Care Act.

Healthcare wins this round.

Upper Left: Regulatory Reform vs. FY2018 Appropriations

Congress is hungry to take back policy-making power from the Executive Branch and has found a sweet spot—rolling back regulations—a move President Trump agrees with. He has already signed legislation repealing a Department of Interior rule and is expected to sign more repeals in the coming months.

On the other hand, appropriations is a long and cumbersome process. To get started, on Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations, President Trump needs to share a budget outline with Congress expected next month, and both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will need to pass all 11 appropriations bills by the end of September. This is a process that has not occurred in over 20 years.

Regulatory reform wins this round.

Lower Left: Trade vs. Supreme Court Nominee

President Trump has indicated that reforming trade policy is a high priority.  But revamping global trade deals into bilateral negotiations will prove to be complicated. The Supreme Court vacancy, on the other hand, has been top of mind. Some Senate Democrats have privately conceded that they expect Neil Gorsuch to be confirmed, taking the place of Antonin Scalia.

The bracket goes to Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

Lower Left: Debt Ceiling v. Government Shutdown

Toward the end of the summer, the Treasury Department will have exhausted all “extraordinary measures” to continue paying the government’s bills. Once again, Congress will need to raise the debt ceiling. This close-to-annual exercise used to be non-controversial. But not anymore. This is an opportunity for Congress to discuss fiscal policy.

Another opportunity to discuss fiscal policy is the expiration of the Continuing Resolution on April 28th. In the past, government shutdowns have been threatened/executed, putting continued funding of the government at risk. Given that both Houses of Congress and the president are from the same party, it doesn’t seem likely that shutting down the government is an option. That being said, crazier things have happened in Washington.

Due to timing, debt ceiling wins by a single foul shot.

Upper Right: Taxes vs. Immigration

Tax reform, a priority of both the president and the Congress, is long overdue. In fact, comprehensive tax reform has not been successful since 1986. But don’t look for action overnight. Congressional Republicans are suggesting it will be undertaken sometime this fall.

On the other hand, immigration is even more contentious and bipartisan reform plans were last successful in 1996 under President Clinton. Since then, although there have been many efforts, reform has been elusive.

Tax wins this round.

Upper Right: Defense Spending vs. Infrastructure

Appropriators are currently preparing a special supplemental funding bill for the Defense Department and President Trump announced he would like to add $54 billion to the defense budget. The infrastructure bill hasn’t gained as much traction as the rhetoric about its importance.

Defense spending wins this round.

Lower right: FY17 Omnibus Appropriations vs. NDAA

The National Defense Authorization Act has a 55-year history of being signed into law each year. It is considered in Congress a “must pass” bill. Omnibus appropriations that combine multiple appropriations into a single bill have a spotty record at best. While Omnibus appropriations passed in Fiscal Year 2016, it is still unclear how the rest of FY17 will be funded. Because no one is quite sure, we declare NDAA the winner.

NDAA wins this round.

Lower right: Spending Cuts vs. Elimination of a Federal Agency

President Trump made a campaign promise to significantly decrease agency spending and is expected to propose major cuts in the FY2018 budget. Although eliminating agencies is possible, it is easier to starve an agency than eliminate it altogether.

Spending cuts win this round.

The Elite Eight issues that we predict will prevail to the next round in Washington are:

  • Regulatory Reform
  • Healthcare
  • Supreme Court Appointment
  • Debt Ceiling
  • Tax
  • Defense spending
  • NDAA
  • Spending Cuts

In Washington policy circles, representing women-owned businesses is often like rooting for the underdog. Women across the country who have joined our voice often end up winning the policy fight even though they are dismissed in the “first round.” But collectively, we can end up being the winners who bring home the victory. Not just for us, but for those who have come before us and those that are coming behind us.

Which issues do you think will score over the coming month? Tweet at us @WIPPWeDecide #DCelite8 with your predictions for the Final Policy Four.

Pamela O’Rourke, WIPP’s National Partner of the Month – March 2017

Pamela O'Rourke.jpg

Pamela O’Rourke, president and CEO of ICON information Consultants, serves on WIPP’s board of directors and has been a strong supporter of the organization through her leadership and generous contributions of time and fiscal support. Indeed, Pamela became WIPP’s very first donor to earn the “Trailblazer” title in February by contributing $10,000 to support our education work and advocacy on behalf of women business owners in Washington, D.C.

It’s thanks to people like Pamela that WIPP thrives. Thank you, Pamela!

Q Tell us a little about ICON and its mission.

A ICON Information Consultants, LP, is a Houston-based, woman-owned (WBENC Certified) staffing and payrolling firm. ICON has provided recruitment and payrolling solutions for 19 years and has over 3,500 contractors on staff daily within the US and Canada. Our primary services include Contract, Contract-to-Hire, and Direct Hire Staffing services, Payrolling services, Independent Contractor Compliance and Management services, and Specialized IT Project Management services. We target clients in the Fortune 100 and 500 arena. Some of our clients include Bank of America, John Hancock, Exelon, Deutsche Bank, NRG Reliant Energy, Shell, Halliburton, HP, Waste Management, Schlumberger, Lyondell/Basell, among many others throughout the nation. Simply put, ICON’s mission is to become the best human capital solutions firm in the US.

Q Have you always been an entrepreneur? If not, what inspired you to take the leap?

A Even before ICON’s inception, I maintained a firm belief that clients deserve more. Make the client happy while always doing the right thing, such as staying late, providing outstanding service internally and out, and doing the best job the first time. I realized while working for other firms that the level of service I wanted to provide was far superior to that which was requested of me. At that time, I saw a window of opportunity to channel my energy and work ethic towards a new business venture. As banks accredit no value to best intentions and denied my loan request since “people are not tangible assets,” I created a business plan and solicited two groups of friends to invest in the start-up. Between my own investment and the money I raised, in 1998, I opened ICON Information Consultants LP with $250,000 in capital. I then gave myself six months to make it work.

Q Have you encountered any challenges you had to overcome as a business woman and if so, what have you learned from them?

A ICON Information Consultants began its journey as a human capital procurement firm in the area of Information Technology. IT has always been a male-dominated field, and my approach and tenacity have broken through a few glass ceilings to ensure ICON remains at the top of our clients’ lists (recently, Bank of America noted ICON Information Consultants as their “favorite supplier”). I learned one of my biggest lessons when I first started to hire people. As an entrepreneur, I realized early on that in order to be at the top of my industry, I must build a team that shares my hunger to continuously learn and improve. As a team, we need to be ready, because competitors are poised to seize any opportunities left open. That’s why I survey the competition to ensure that ICON’s competitive advantage is consistently one step ahead of the curve (if not two).

Q Do you have a success story that you are particularly proud of? Tell us about it!

A The first few years of ICON Information Consultant’s existence forms the basis of my success story. Between my own investment and the money that I raised, in 1998, we opened the business with $250,000 in capital. I gave myself six months to make it work. Choosing to work only with Fortune 100 and 500 corporations because of their significant investment in state-of-the-art technology, I managed to cross over into the midmarket range within months. I thought I was going to do $70,000 my first year, but I did $2.5 million. The next year was $7.7 million. The third year was $11.7 million, then $14 million and $16 million. In 2016, revenues exceeded $270 million. That’s how glass ceilings are shattered.

Q Do you have any tips you would like to share with other women pursuing entrepreneurship?

A Get out of your comfort zone and make contacts. Once you have a prospective client’s undivided attention, know what you need to do to get on their radar, be direct with what you do and make sure they know why you’re great. Always remember: be yourself, relax, and bring lots of business cards.

Everyone Wants to Know: What’s the Top Small Biz Issue for Congress?

By Jennifer White, WIPP Government Relations

What is the number one thing small business owners want Congress to focus on this year? Is a lack of political certainty affecting America’s business environment? What can be done to better help women and minorities obtain capital to start their businesses? These are the questions the House Small Business Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Tax, and Capital Access discussed during a hearing entitled “State of the Small Business Economy,” giving the committee the opportunity to listen to testimony on concerns confronting small business owners in 2017.

To no one’s surprise, the committee heard that the most taxing issues to small business right now are healthcare deficiencies, tax reform, and regulatory reform. Chairman Bland posed the question, “In addressing these issues, where should we spend the most time?”

Holly Wade, Director of Research and Policy Analysis for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), said you can’t pick just one. According to NFIB’s 2016 Small Business Problems and Priorities Survey, health insurance is the number one issue plaguing small business, directly followed by burdensome regulations and federal taxes. The small business economy, she said, has struggled to bounce back from the recession due to taxes, regulations, and health insurance, which consume valuable resources, including time and profits. To restore the small business economy, all three of these issues must take priority.

Another common denominator heard in each witness’ testimony was concern over lack of policy and regulatory certainty regarding the business environment. Steve Veuger, resident scholar from the American Enterprise Institute, said that despite measures such as passage of the Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act, requiring more careful consideration of rules and regulations and how they affect small business, measures of uncertainty have spiked in the last few months. Mr. Veuger also pointed out that Congress must be careful in the repeal and replacement of the ACA; to move forward without a clear policy direction, he said, could cause individual and small group markets to unravel in a detrimental way.

Members of the subcommittee also asked about the difficulty women and minorities still face in regard to obtaining jobs and accessing capital. According to Victor Hwang, vice president of entrepreneurship for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, an important part of that issue is that while the U.S. is increasingly becoming more racially diverse, the American entrepreneurial population does not reflect it. Today, 80.2 percent of American entrepreneurs are white and 64.5 percent are male. Mr. Hwang said that gap for racial minorities and women is costing the country millions of jobs and that the key to increasing diversity in entrepreneurship is overcoming social barriers such as race, gender, or a lack of a formal degree that can prevent individuals from turning an idea into a business reality.

Further, Bob Bland, CEO and founder of Manufacture New York, and the co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington, relayed her own struggles of accessing capital because of past credit. Even with great programs it can still be difficult for women to get loans, she said, because they still don’t qualify for low interest rates, and need something that provides for more risk like venture capital, which can be even harder to obtain. Mr. Hwang agreed that access to venture capital is not on a level playing field. He suggested that building more opportunities for connections at a local level based on trust would be a core way of getting obtaining capital to a level playing field.

“Being an entrepreneur is hard and there are risks associated–it’s the spirit of being able to take a loss that makes America great—what can we do to spread the risk so that everyone everywhere has the opportunity to be one?” asked Rep. Kelly as the final question of the hearing. We educate people on how to find jobs, not how to make jobs, answered Mr. Hwang. To understand the access issues entrepreneurs face, we have to focus on the people who are starting at the bottom with nothing.

74,000 Pages of Tax Talk

By Mark Lee, WIPP Government Relations

The U.S. Tax Code is a 74,000-page maze of sections, clauses, deductions, and exemptions. Small business owners certainly do not have the time to learn every twist and turn, clause and section in the code. Not only do entrepreneurs have to keep their doors open, take care of their employees, and keep on the right side of state and local regulations, but they must also submit detailed filings to the IRS that vary across the spectrum of the small business ecosystem. So, what should be done to streamline the code and lessen the burden on our nation’s small business community?

The House Small Business Committee (HSBC) held an appropriately titled hearing, “Start-ups Stalling? The Tax Code as a Barrier to Entrepreneurship,” to begin to tackle this issue. The HSBC is one of the more bipartisan committees in the House, so it was no surprise that both Chair Steve Chabot of Ohio and Ranking Member Nydia Velazquez of New York were in general agreement that the tax code is desperately in need of reform and simplification.

The hearing was convened at a time when Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was busy whipping up support for a comprehensive federal tax code overhaul—one not seen since the Reagan Administration. Ranking Member Velazquez made it clear that small businesses must be at the forefront of any tax overhaul. Since pass-throughs, S-Corps, and LLCs are all subject to different tax regimes, Rep. Velazquez mentioned simple business formation is one of the first complicated tax hurdles that an entrepreneur must clear.

Additionally, startups and small businesses are often operating in the red or on very slim revenue margins so an unexpected hurdle could potentially be ruinous. Chair Chabot asked the panel about the cost of compliance and the fear of audits. As we all know, most small businesses do their taxes in-house and cannot afford accountants and tax attorneys. The panel unanimously agreed that this was among the most pressing tax burdens they face. Witness Tim Reynolds. The president of Tribune, Inc. of Hudson, Ohio, testifying on behalf of the National Small Business Association, recounted his own recent audit costs. His small firm paid thousands of dollars in compliance costs alone: a number that doesn’t account for the lost business and revenue that resulted from the audit process. Other witnesses included Mr. Kyle Pomerleau, director of Federal Projects at the Tax Foundation; Troy Lewis, CPA, CGMA and immediate past chair of the American Institute of CPAs’ Tax Executive Committee, and David Burton, senior fellow of economic policy at the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity at the Heritage Foundation.

In an already wild start to a new Administration and Congress, tax reform remains near the top of both of their agendas. Small businesses everywhere are rightfully screaming for relief. We need to stay on top of advocating for tax reform that is a less burdensome regulatory regime for our nation’s vital job creators.

 

Executive Order Bonanza has Implications for Business

By Ann Sullivan, WIPP Chief Advocate

President Trump will complete only his third full week on Friday and has already left a lasting mark on how small businesses and government itself work with 20 Executive Orders. Through a series of presidential actions, Mr. Trump has touched on topics ranging from Immigration to healthcare. It’s time we took a deeper dive into what’s come down the pipeline and how it affects the small business community. Read the blog here.

The domestic policy action that was signed in the presence of a number of small businesses, is the “Two-for-One” Executive Order.

Here’s the rundown. The Executive Order has two parts – one aimed at Fiscal Year 2017 and one for Fiscal Year 2018:

  • FY17: “1 in and 2 out.” If a federal agency proposes a new regulation, it must recommend two regulations to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to be terminated. OMB, not the agency will have the final word on which regulations are eliminated.
  • FY18 and subsequent fiscal years: Agencies are ordered to offset costs of new regulations and the OMB is ordered to create a budget that limits how much a new regulation can rise.

On its face, this Executive Order spells relief for lenders and small businesses but there are a raft of unknowns still to be resolved. One question is when this directive will be implemented. For example, the administration’s OMB Director-designate Congressman Mick Mulvaney is undergoing a tough confirmation process and the timeline for his confirmation by the full Senate is still unclear.

Executive Orders generally provide broad guidelines rather than detailed plans on its execution. Questions to be answered are: What actually constitutes a “regulation?” Is it simply a single rule or a whole host of interwoven regulations that, together, provide guidance for an agency on an individual program or policy? What constitutes a “cost?” Will the benefit in a cost-benefit analysis be considered or will the analysis include only the cost? OMB is stocked with experts so we anticipate much more clarity on this as soon as the OMB director is confirmed.

Now, on to more straightforward presidential actions regarding President Trump’s infrastructure plans. One such action expedites environmental review and approval for high priority infrastructure projects and gives any Cabinet member or governor the unilateral ability to designate a project as “high priority” thus shortening the approval process, laid out in the NEPA law. He’s also issued a “Build the Wall” action which orders the Department of Homeland Security to begin building a wall along the U.S. and Mexico border using existing funds. It also authorizes the hiring of 5,000 new border agents. Congress will have to appropriate additional funds for completion because the current budget does not have funding for this project.

Additionally, there were two more Executive Orders issued almost immediately upon President Trump’s inauguration. One of the first actions signed by President Trump was an Executive Order that begins the process of repealing Obamacare. While it does not directly repeal the law, it directs federal agencies to give states, insurance companies and consumers maximum flexibility in complying with Obamacare until such a time as it is repealed. Full repeal and/or replace is going to take an act of Congress which has been openly wrangling with itself on whether to repeal, repeal and replace, or to “repair” the existing law. Regardless, this presidential action starts the ball rolling with respect to repeal of Obamacare while Congress considers its course of action.

The other significant action taken by the president instituted a federal agency-wide hiring freeze on all existing and open positions with exceptions for national security, military, and public safety.  The president intends this as a stopgap and allows agencies to reallocate to prevent public safety and national security from being adversely affected. The kicker, however, is that the memorandum explicitly prevents the hiring of outside contractors to prevent the circumvention of the spirit of the order. Given the number of waivers and exceptions allowed, it’s not altogether clear how this will work in practice, but it certainly lays down a marker that the president is serious about reining in the growth of the federal government.

Finally, on Feb. 3, the president signed two Executive Orders aimed at decreasing regulations for the financial industry; the first calling for a review and the scaling back of existing financial laws, including Dodd-Frank, and the second halting the implementation of the Department of Labor’s (DOL) fiduciary rule, which was set to go into effect this April.

Dodd-Frank, enacted after the 2008 meltdown, was responsible for creating more stringent rules regarding bank capitalization, increasing compliance and reporting standards for banks, introducing stricter mortgage requirements, creating the Financial Stability Oversight Council and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and curbing excessive risk-taking and the existence of too-big-to-fail institutions on Wall Street. Mr. Trump’s action on Dodd-Frank requires regulators to produce a study on financial rules within 120 days—appearing as more of a demand for a review than a complete dismantling of the law.

The fiduciary rule was intended to prevent consumers from receiving conflicted advice when it comes to retirement savings. The president’s order calls for the DOL to examine the rule to determine whether it may lead to the unintended consequence of making it more difficult for advisors to provide financial advice to their clients. However, embraced by much of the financial industry, this order is expected to move quickly compared to the order on Dodd-Frank.

These Executive Actions have the potential to clear the way for even greater gains by women-owned small business moving forward. As we reach for new heights in 2017, WIPP will be fully engaged with the Congress and administration to ensure that burdensome regulations harming the growth of women-owned small business are eliminated and we continue to be the robust engine powering the small business economy.

It’s a Big MACs World

By Ann Sullivan, WIPP Chief Advocate

Earlier this week, WIPP submitted comments on a proposed rule changing the rules related to small business participation on multiple award contracts, also known as MACs.

The FAR Council, which oversees federal acquisition regulations, sought to clarify the use of set-asides, reserves, and orders placed against MACs. As contractors already know, use of these large contracts is steadily growing. Ensuring all socioeconomic groups, including women-owned small businesses (WOSBs) have access to these opportunities, is a top priority for WIPP.

The rule adds coverage for the new concept of a “reserve.” A reserve would be used on MACs where a partial set-aside is not feasible, but where agencies still want small businesses to participate as prime contractors. This “reserve” concept is very similar to the tracks outlined in WIPP’s Do Not Enter report, which shows how agencies have utilized certain socio-economic set-asides, and discriminated against women-owned firms.

While the proposal provides clarity for contracting officers, it falls short by including an out-of-date policy regarding the limitations on subcontracting. In May 2016, the Small Business Administration finalized a rule change that substantially revised the limitations on subcontracting by making it easier for women-owned firms to comply. The new rule focuses on the percentage of the award amount that has been subcontracted, not the percentage of work. The rule also provides an exemption for similarly situated entities, so WOSBs subcontracting to other WOSBs does not count against the percentage of the award subcontracted. This new policy is a win-win for small businesses, but the FAR Council does not acknowledge the new policy in its rule. If one of the purposes of the rule is to clarify small business authorities for contracting officers, the FAR should use the most up-to-date performance of work requirements.

WIPP appreciates the interest of the FAR Council in providing greater flexibility and clarity for the role of small businesses in multiple award contracts. But this proposed rule does not do enough. Without additional small business protections, this rule could hurt our nation’s biggest job creators- small businesses.

WIPPs full comments on the rule can be found here.