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.

Reimagining Health Care

By Ann Sullivan, WIPP Chief Advocate

Affordability, predictability, and flexibility were three themes reiterated at the Feb. 7 hearing held by the House Committee on Small Business entitled “Reimagining the Health Care Marketplace for America’s Small Business.” It was held for the purpose of taking a look at the current marketplace and its recent difficulties, and to explore options to improve access, affordability, and consistency.

While no clear legislative path has yet been paved, many facts, figures, and ideas were floated around regarding how to ensure that small business is not an afterthought in the revamping of the healthcare system. Solutions presented and discussed at the hearing included tax credits for small business, across state line coverage, and Health Savings Accounts and Health Reimbursement Arrangements.

Here is more about the items discussed.

  • Tax credits for the self-employed: As the Tax Code currently stands, self-employed individuals are restricted from deducting their health insurance premiums. Small, self-employed business owners end up paying more for health insurance because their premiums are not treated the same for taxes as other businesses.

Leveling the playing field by giving these small businesses tax credits would improve affordability for small business owners, as well as expand the pool of coverage, according to Keith Hall of the National Association of the Self-Employed (NASE).

  • Across state line coverage: The number of insurers participating in the marketplace varies widely from state to state, as do the number of coverage plans. The lack of competition among insurers in the current exchanges decreases pressure to keep costs down.

Mr. Hall of the NASE believes that allowing for the sale of health insurance across state lines will boost competition, driving costs down. In order for this to happen, Congress will have to enact a health plan that will modify the existing law that inhibits the sale of health insurance across state lines.

  • Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs): A provision of a law signed into Congress last session allows small employers with fewer than 50 full-time employees that do not offer a group health plan to fund employee HRAs to pay for qualified out-of-pocket medical expenses and for non-group plan health insurance premiums, including plans purchased on the public health care exchanges.

Allowing small businesses to offer a bare bones plan and HSAs would allow individuals to decide the best choice for themselves and their families, according to Tom Secor of Durable Corporation, who testified on behalf of the National Small Business Association (NSBA).

This hearing was the first of a continuing series that will take place on the discussion of healthcare repeal and replacement. To read full written testimony from each witness here.

Gloria Larkin, WIPP’s National Partner of the Month – February 2017

113016_glarkintargetgov_headshot

Gloria Larkin, president of TargetGov, has been a staunch ally of WIPP for years. She leads GiveMe5 webinars, responds quickly and effectively to WIPP’s calls to action, and is always on the lookout for new WIPP members. It’s thanks to people like Gloria that WIPP thrives!

Read our Q&A with Gloria to learn more about her and her work.

Q: Tell us a little about TargetGov and its mission

A: TargetGov is celebrating its 20th year in business in 2017! Our mission is to help small, mid-sized and large government contractors win business and aggressively grow their companies. Our clients have won over $3.9 billion in federal contracts in just the last five years.

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

A: I have been both an employee and an entrepreneur. I took the leap 20 years ago because I wanted to do something that no one else was doing—help businesses see great success and increase their revenues with a targeted, proactive marketing and business development process.

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

A: The challenges have been constant, and access to capital is one of the biggest. Through the years, I have had several business loans to grow my business, and none of them were the amount I asked for. It’s an issue even to this day. In applying for a line of credit, I was offered less than half of what I thought it should be. I had the chutzpah to say exactly the amount I thought they should give me (more than double what they offered) and was pleasantly surprised that they agreed. In the past I wouldn’t have pushed, but now, I do.

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

A: My proudest moments are when our clients contact us and tell us of their awarded contracts and successful business growth. It feels like my children are successful and I am one proud parent! The first billion was a heady milestone. Now as we see the four-billion milestone coming this year, we are ecstatic about their success!

Q: What is the biggest lesson learned working with the federal government?

A: The biggest lesson is that the federal government market is constantly changing. The rules and regulations are burdensome, yes, but success is predicated on having a strategy and plan that addresses this constant change and adapts proactively, with a trackable, measureable and scalable process. Seeing it work in real life is extraordinary!

Q: Do you have any tips you would like to share with women pursuing federal contracts?

A: This is a demanding market and one must be well prepared, have a well-thought-out roadmap, the discipline to execute it, and measurable actions to track success. This is truly the market in which you can think BIG and see results. But it takes effort and knowledge; use the experts to help you!

Q: Tell us about your experience as a WIPP member. What resources and value has WIPP provided that has been helpful to you and your company?

A: WIPP has truly changed my life. I started getting involved as a committee chair, then learned how to talk to my Congress people. I participated in virtually every area WIPP works in and found a home on the procurement committee. Then I worked my way onto the government board, and then to Chair of the Educational Foundation. Thanks to WIPP, I have testified before the House Small Business Committee, and traveled to more than 15 states and had lifetime trips to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Japan and Oxford, England to speak or work with women in those counties. Working to start the GiveMe5 program, and supporting it through the years has been a great highlight. WIPP has impacted more than 30,000 women business owners through GiveMe5! And I am deeply honored to have many WIPP members as clients and heart-felt friends.

10 Things You Should Know From the Linda McMahon Hearing

By Ann Sullivan, WIPP Chief Advocate

On Jan. 24, the Senate Small Business Committee held a hearing on the confirmation of Linda McMahon (former WWE CEO), to become Administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA). Here are the 10 things you should know about her hearing:

  1. SBA is still part of the cabinet—President Obama elevated the position of SBA Administrator to cabinet level. President Trump is sticking with that change.
  2. Existing programs are safe…for now—When questioned by numerous senators on specific program commitments, McMahon repeatedly said that if the program is working then it should be continued.
  3. She will go to bat for small business in the executive branch—McMahon sees herself as the small business advocate within the executive branch, and will go to other agencies and make sure that more federal contracting opportunities are provided to small businesses.
  4. She will work to expand the 5% contracting goal for women—Senator Duckworth (IL), asked about the 5% goal, and McMahon expressed support for women entrepreneurs, broadly, “I have been very forthcoming in wanting women entrepreneurship to grow. And I will continue to support that, it is very near and dear to my heart.”
  5. She has a history working with Veterans—According to McMahon, WWE was always concerned about veterans and how to help create jobs for them. Senator Cardin (MD) discussed the Veterans Institute for Procurement (VIP) program and noted its impact and high performance.
  6. Look for an emphasis on mentoring—Given McMahon’s background in business mentoring, she may focus on programs that incorporate mentorship. As co-founder of Women’s Leadership LIVE, McMahon’s organization educates entrepreneurs about all facets of starting and expanding their business.
  7. She wants to help free small businesses from burdensome regulations—While many senators asked questions about regulatory burdens on small businesses, Senator Ernst brought up the PROVE It Act—legislation passed out of committee last session that empowers the SBA Office of Advocacy to require agencies to analyze rules for their small business impact.
  8. Speaking of advocacy—McMahon expressed support for expanding the independent SBA Office of Advocacy to ensure that the voice of small business is heard on federal regulations.
  9. She wants small businesses to participate in anticipated Infrastructure projects—When asked about promoting fair opportunities for small businesses to compete for work in the highly anticipated infrastructure plan, McMahon stated that small business participation was a given.
  10. Streamlining cumbersome federal contracting—McMahon expressed support for streamlining the alphabet soup of federal websites and databases like SAM and FBO.

This was a conciliatory confirmation hearing. Given the contentious nature of other confirmation hearings, it was unknown what tone McMahon’s hearing would take. But the hearing went well. Senators were polite and McMahon was responsive to concerns. With so much partisanship in Washington, it was positive to see McMahon’s interest in working with the committee—both sides.

Senate Begins Process to Repeal Obamacare

By Ann Sullivan, WIPP Chief Advocate

The 115th Congress is already at work and taking votes that impact women business owners. The Senate voted 51 to 48 early Thursday to approve a budget resolution that instructs Congressional committees to begin work on legislation repealing major portions of the Affordable Care Act.

Senator Rand Paul was the lone Republican “no” vote and Republicans defeated Democratic amendments defending popular portions of the ACA, including expanded Medicaid and Medicare and allowing kids to stay on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26.

The House is expected to take up the resolution this week, though debate may extend into the weekend.

WIPP will work with Congress to ensure that whatever changes are implemented address accessibility and affordability—issues that have plagued the small business market.

WIPP will stay on top of legislative developments like this in 2017 to make sure you have the latest information you need.

HRAs Back in Time for the New Year

Tucked deep within the 824-page “21st Century Cures” legislation passed this week, was a major victory for Women Impacting Public Policy and entrepreneurs nationwide. The bill, on its way to the President for his signature will allow for the return of Health Reimbursement Arrangements, or “HRAs”, a small business-friendly way to offer health benefits.

In short, HRAs offer business owners an easy and tax-friendly way to subsidize employee medical costs, including insurance premiums. For example, a business owner could offer $200 a month to employees toward their individual premiums instead of providing health insurance through a company plan.

In practice, employees shop for plans in the individual market, finding what best fits their needs and budget. The business reimburses employees for some or that entire premium. This was a popular method for small businesses for which company-wide insurance plans were prohibitively costly.

The Affordable Care Act, however, and its interpretation by the IRS created stiff penalties (up to $500,000) for businesses using this method to offer a health benefit. This legislation reverses that interpretation, making clear that such plans are acceptable, penalty free.

Employers can now offer up to $4,950 per employee per year ($10,000 for employees with dependents) and employees must show they used funds on medical purposes, including premiums. Companies must have 50 or fewer employees and must offer the benefit to all employees to be eligible.

WIPP has long advocated a fix to this unintended consequence and took the lead in pressing Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell to provide temporary relief last year.

John Stanford, WIPP Government Relations

Getting Women ONBOARD

By: Debbie Kobrin, WIPP Government Relations

WIPP has consistently advocated for increased female participation in venture funding. Last week, SBA confirmed WIPP’s conclusions with the release of Measuring the Representation of Women and Minorities in the SBIC Program – a groundbreaking study showing that women at small business investment companies (SBICs) play an important role in bridging the lending gap to women-owned firms.

The SBIC program is a multi-billion-dollar investment program that bridges the gap between entrepreneurs’ need for capital and traditional venture financing. SBICs match SBA guaranteed loans with their own funds and utilizes professional fund managers to identify and finance promising small businesses. With a current portfolio of $26 billion, the program has invested in some of our nation’s most iconic brands including Apple, Tesla, and FedEx.

Overall, the SBIC program has been successful, though it has failed to serve women and underrepresented individuals as well as it should. To better understand this challenge, SBA commissioned a report that found when women and underrepresented individuals are the investors, they are more likely to invest in firms like themselves.

The report also found greater gender diversity among SBIC investment teams than is present in the broader venture capital and private equity community. Nearly 12% of SBIC funds have women on their investment teams, compared to less than 8% in the private equity industries. While SBIC funds are reaching more women than private funds, it is still nowhere near enough.

As WIPP’s access to capital platform Breaking the Bank indicates, venture capital is still too elusive for women-owned firms. Venture capital is a classic “chicken and egg problem”, too few women serve on SBIC boards, which leads to the cyclic exclusion of women-owned firms from SBIC investments.

To increase the number of women and underrepresented individuals on SBIC and corporate boards SBA, LinkedIn, WIPP, and other partner organizations have created the Open Network for Board Diversity, or ONBOARD.

ONBOARD is an online platform that serves as an opportunity for women to be more involved in equity-based financing. By providing more opportunities for women to serve on corporate boards, we will increase opportunities for women-owned firms. To join ONBOARD, click here or by search “ONBOARD diversity” in the Linkedin search bar.

To learn more about ONBOARD please watch Give me 5: ONBOARD: Open Network for Board Diversity presented by SBA, and hosted by WIPP’s Chief Advocate, Ann Sullivan.

A Report Worth Reading

By John Stanford, WIPP Government Relations

Shortly after adding sole source authority to the WOSB program, WIPP’s Chief Advocate (and my boss, full disclosure) Ann Sullivan asked our policy team a simple question: what’s next?

Surely the much-needed improvements to the women’s procurement program we had spent the last fifteen years attaining were not the only steps needed to remove barriers women face in the federal market. The answer was straightforward, WIPP’s procurement portfolio would go onward, exploring more ways women entrepreneurs can bring innovation and value to the federal government.

The next question was not so simple. While anecdotes and intuition told us that the playing field was far from level, we lacked the data to point to the next set of systemic issues that limit access. “What are they and what can we do about them,” began a quest that reached a major milestone two weeks ago with the release of Do Not Enter, WIPP’s latest report about disparity in federal contracts.

The salient details are in the related one-pager with a full executive summary and findings in the formal report. I’ll refrain from re-digesting those documents here, but instead make a plea that you visit them. The key findings and recommendations will be the pillars of WIPP’s next push – ensuring that these mega-contracts are fair opportunities for women business owners.

Many people ask where an advocacy campaign truly begins; something that will ultimately lead to a new law or a change in regulations. At WIPP, it begins with our members. Tackling this issue would never have happened without women business owners communicating their struggles—far more than individual challenges, but instead ongoing concerns about disparities—to WIPP.

We listened. But compiling a few narratives from members will not move the needle in Washington. We needed data, analysis, and recommendations across regions and industries to garner the attention of policymakers. Enter this report. It is the launching point for a broad campaign to educate and change a contracting system that continues to leave women business owners at a disadvantage.

At WIPP’s Annual Leadership meeting earlier this month, we detailed the report to attendees and Congress. In follow up, a new WIPP member commented that she was thrilled WIPP would be taking on this issue. She described her feeling of helplessness as she lacked the voice to challenge her customer, but felt that she continued to have limited success because of the structure of her contracts. The barriers she faced could have come straight from the pages of this report.

While her story was compelling, new policies are not implemented because of individual experience. Simply put, Congress is little moved by lone stories of inequity. That is why, at WIPP, these kinds of efforts serve as a reminder that a team in Washington, backed by organizations and businesses across the country, stand shoulder to shoulder with you on these issues. Do Not Enter, and its ensuing efforts, should remind us all that no one is alone.

As the next chapter of WIPP’s advocacy for women business owners seeking access to the federal market begins, it does so not in the form of grand rhetoric or a press release, but spread out across dozens of pages of research and data confirming what we knew to be true: more work remains to be done to ensure women have a shot at the government’s largest contracts.

We hope you will join us in this fight.

You Need to Know: Court Rulings that Impact Federal Contracts

By: Debbie Kobrin, WIPP Government Relations

 

While most federal contract changes happen through Congressional action and agency rule-making, the constitutionality of small business contract practices has been subject to debate over the past several years. Below are two recent cases you should know about.

Rothe Development, Inc. v. U.S. Dept. of Defense et al.,

The U.S. Court of Appeals DC recently upheld the constitutionality of the SBA 8(a) program, designed to help individuals who are socially and economically disadvantaged compete on equal footing  with others in the U.S. economy . To meet that goal, the program provides qualifying small businesses with technical assistance, financial assistance, and assistance in awarding government contracts. The case addressed the programs definition of “socially disadvantaged” as a racial class that violates the right to equal protection under the Constitution. According to Rothe, when the government sets-aside a contract for an 8(a) firm, it unfairly prevents those who are not minority-owned from competing for the opportunity.

While the 8(a) program is colloquially referred to as the minority program, it is open to all socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. However, non-minority individuals must meet a different standard of eligibility.  While the law references specific groups, it does not do so, “as a floor for participation”. Rather, specific groups were mentioned to indicate the “kind of social disadvantage Congress had in mind: individuals’ experience of having suffered racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias because of their identity as a member of a group without regard to their individual qualities.”

 

WHAT IT MEANS FOR WOSBs

While the 8(a) program withstood the Rothe challenge, it is not expected to be the last. The WOSB program was structured to only include industries where women-owned firms are underrepresented in order to ensure it could withstand legal challenges. While having a set-aside program based on specific industries may appear limiting, the structure is designed to stand up to this type of legal challenge.

 

Kingdomware v. United States

Earlier this summer, a  unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Kingdomware v. United States, requires the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to give a preference to veteran-owned small business for VA contracts. This is contingent upon having two or more small businesses that can meet the requirements — also known as the “rule of two.” This is a big win for all small contractors because the Court made clear that agency contract goals are a floor, not a ceiling. WIPP has advocated for many years for agencies to exceed the five percent goal. This case shows the power of small business goals.

 

WHAT IT MEANS FOR WOSBs

While the decision only applies directly to Veteran-Owned Small Businesses at the VA, SBA is conferring with the Department of Justice, other agencies, and the Federal Acquisition Regulatory (FAR) Council to discuss if further changes to regulations are needed. In the first small contracting case taken up by the Supreme Court, the message to agencies was loud and clear. The “rule of two” is a powerful tool for all small businesses seeking contracts in the federal marketplace and this decision lays the groundwork to ensure WOSBs are given a fair shot on schedule contracts.