WIPP July Partner of the Month: Pam Mazza

Pam Mazza, managing partner of PilieroMazza PLLC in Washington, D.C., serves on WIPP’s board of directors and has been a strong supporter of the organization for years through her leadership and generous contributions of time and fiscal support. Pam is one of WIPP’s inaugural “Trailblazers,” a group of women who contributed $10,000 to support our education and advocacy work in Washington, D.C. on behalf of women business owners

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

 

Q Tell us a little about your company and its mission.

A PilieroMazza is a full-service, woman- owned law firm in Washington D.C. working primarily with government contractors nationwide. Our principle practice areas include labor and employment law, general corporate counselling, litigation and all aspects of government contracting including a strong understanding of small business and socio-economic programs. We are committed to keeping our clients abreast of pending legislation, regulations or case law that might impact the operations of their businesses, and to working with clients to apprise lawmakers and regulators of the potential impact of any proposed changes. Our goal is to help our clients nurture and grow their businesses and to build long-lasting, personal relationships.  We do our best not only to identify issues and obstacles but to develop practical, cost-effective approaches to overcoming them. We pride ourselves in being accessible, affordable and efficient in assisting with our clients’ needs.

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

A I grew up in this firm. I was a law clerk, an associate, then a junior partner. Shortly after I became a junior partner, the managing partner and rainmaker of the firm, Dan Piliero, passed away suddenly at the age of 48 and I had a decision to make about the future of the firm. Lawyers are supposed to have their ducks in a row, but since I had just become a junior partner, we didn’t have an agreement covering this situation. It was a stressful time but after weighing the options and working with his estate, I was able to buy the firm.  That was in 1991. The short answer is I was young at the time and hadn’t thought that far ahead about what I would ultimately do. But I quickly became an entrepreneur and I’ve been sitting in this chair ever since!

Q What challenges did you encounter that you had to overcome as a business woman and what have you learned from them?

A  I think that as the years go by, the challenges are fewer and fewer because of the reputation we’ve developed. But back when I took over the practice, I did have a very big concern: the controlling person at a lot of the companies we represented was a male and I didn’t know how they were going to react to me taking over. Would they stay or leave? I was fortunate because though a few moved on, many stayed.

I feel like I have probably had a better experience than many women I know. I see the challenges my woman-owned business clients face. Depending on the industry, it can be very hard for women in government contracting to break in. Many industries and agencies still function under the good-old-boy system and it’s hard for a woman entrepreneur to get her foot in the door. I see women struggling for recognition of their talents; struggling to have people look past their gender and consider their technical capabilities.

I think there also might be challenges when you look at the differences between males and females in leadership roles. A tough male boss is viewed as a solid taskmaster, but if you have that same personality as a female you’re viewed differently. We’ve got to continue to figure out how to co-exist.

I think my main advice is probably to keep pushing through, get your job done, don’t get wrapped up in the prejudices and figure out how to work around them.

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

A I’m really proud of the law firm we’ve built and I think the firm is my biggest success. We employ 42 people, including 24 lawyers. We had eight when I took over. We have high-quality attorneys who are committed to what we do and the clients we serve. We try to make certain that every client has a good experience. We make certain they understand our different practice areas so they can find the person who can provide them with the knowledge and help they need. I learned many years ago that the clients who stay are the ones who know more than one person at our firm. So, I try to make sure every client has good relationships with and access to more than one lawyer.  It’s unusual for a small firm like ours to maintain such a diverse practice and to be competitive with large and small law firms and I am very proud of what we’ve built, the principles we maintain and our reputation within the government contracting community.

Q What tips would you share with other women pursuing entrepreneurship?

A It’s important to follow your dream but also to understand your market. Before you jump in, make sure you know what your potential is, what your industry is, who your customers are, and make absolutely certain that you vet your business partners. Whether they are co-owners, teaming partners or key employees, make sure you have the same ethics, the same ideas, and that you agree on expectations. That means putting it in writing. Those kinds of business relationships can go sour quickly, and the best thing to do is think things through at the beginning so there’s a roadmap if they do.

Q What obstacles do you think are the hardest for women business owners to scale? 

A Scaling a business requires financial resources, a dedicated staff and a wise business plan.  Women entrepreneurs still have trouble with access to credit and capital, which can hinder attracting and retaining the key employees necessary to take a business to the next level.  I do believe the situation has improved over the past decades but I still see clients who struggle with these challenges.  I also suspect that many women still struggle with juggling their roles as mothers—which is critically important—with their roles as entrepreneurs, which is also a critical role. Both jobs require much effort and I do not believe that many women can accomplish both to their satisfaction, especially when trying to scale a business. I don’t care what anyone says, no one can be super woman all the time and each of us needs to strike the most comfortable balance for ourselves.

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 I love being on the WIPP board. I have met so many interesting women and am developing better, deeper relationships with them every day. We share tips, send referrals, and are all working together to build our advocacy effort to make it a better place for women entrepreneurs. It’s a very meaningful experience for me.

As far as resources, all the networking is fantastic. Also, WIPP’s resources like the Give Me 5 program, the annual conferences, networking opportunities and the legislative initiatives have been very valuable to many of our clients.

Senate Small Business Committee Highlights Tax Burdens on Small Businesses

Last week, the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee took up one of the most important issues for Congress this year—tax reform. The committee held a hearing on tax reform to address the code’s current barriers to small business growth. Witnesses testifying before the Committee included Mark Mazur, director of Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, Annette Nellen, chair of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), and Brian Reardon, president of S Corporation Association.

Both the majority and minority voiced the importance of the small business voice when considering tax reform. Chair James Risch (R-ID) began the hearing by pointing to a grim fact: tax compliance costs are 67% higher for small businesses. Due to these extraordinary costs, roughly 89% of small business owners have to rely on outside assistance to comply with the tax code. As we all know, time is money. Ranking Member Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) commented on the length and complexity of the tax code, pointing out that small businesses spend 2.5 billion hours complying with IRS rules. These hours are valuable time wasted on compliance that could be used for growing a business.

Too Much Time and Too Much Money

Questions from members of the committee centered around the increased burdens and costs of tax compliance that small businesses experience. Annettee Nellen from AICPA highlighted in her testimony that tax relief should apply to all businesses, not just C-corps. This is at the core of WIPP’s policy recommendations: to reform the tax code to make deductions and credits equitable, no matter the structure of the company. Mark Mazur, director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, added that the current tax system is “woefully” out of date as it applies to business income. In changing the tax code, Congress will have to look at how different the economy is today from the last time the code was revised, he advised. As pointed out in WIPP’s 2017 Economic Blueprint, pass through entities are subject to a top individual tax rate of 43.4%, and with state and local tax rates ranging up to 13.3%, this significantly hampers business growth.

Institutional Barriers for Women

Ranking Member Shaheen referenced research conducted by WIPP and American University’s Kogod Tax Policy Center. “The last time the tax code was updated, there were only four million women-owned small businesses,” said Shaheen. “Today, there are 11.3 million, making up 38% of firms in this country.” She noted that Congress does not have enough information on women-owned businesses citing the Kogod study, Billion Dollar Blind Spot, asking the panel how Congress and the administration can improve the tax code for women business owners. Mazur agreed, noting that additional resources should be allocated by the IRS to determine barriers for women-owned businesses.

There is certainly agreement from both sides of the aisle that it is time for a change when it comes to tax reform and that the concerns of small businesses should be taken into consideration. This was the first of many conversations that will take place on this critical issue.

To read the written testimony from the hearing, click here.

To read the WIPP and Kogod tax study, click here.

To read WIPP’s 2017 Economic blueprint, click here.

The White House Budget and Small Business

By Jennifer White, WIPP Advocacy Team

On Tuesday, the president’s full budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2018 was released. The numbers below outline proposed funding changes for Small Business Administration programs, as well as the justifications sent to Congress on specified funding changes on our blog.

As a reminder, the president proposes and Congress appropriates. Congress will be making the final funding decisions. Here are WIPP’s recommendations for Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations.

Need to brush up on the budget process? Click here for WIPP’s webinar on the issue.

FY18 White House Budget Proposal

Program

FY17 Funding
(in millions)

FY18 Request
(in millions)
WBC 18 16*
PRIME 5 0*
HUBZone 3 2.5*
Microloan TA 31 25
Microloan Lending 44 36
CDFI Fund 248 14*
7(a) guarantees 23.5 billion 29 billion
NWBC 1.5 1.5
SBDCs 125 110*


* WBC justification by SBA to Congress

The FY 2018 request strengthens SBA outreach center programs by reducing duplicative services, coordinating best practices, and investing in communities that will benefit from SBA’s business center support. As a result, the SBA is confident that it will be better positioned to strengthen local partnerships and more efficiently serve program participants while achieving savings over the FY 2017 Enacted levels.

* PRIME justification by SBA to Congress

The PRIME program’s function and activities are not discernibly different from many other SBA entrepreneurial assistance programs such as Microloan technical assistance, the Women’s Business Center program, or the Small Business Development Center program. In particular, while the PRIME program is designed specifically for micro-level businesses, it is less targeted than the Microloan program’s technical assistance funding which supports micro-borrowers with both microloans and other support from the intermediaries. In addition, the SBA has been strengthening its partnerships with major U.S. banks, as well as community lenders, to help them to deliver billions more in financing to under-served communities.

* HUBZone Justification by SBA to Congress:

Following an FY 2017 development effort to enhance HUBZone maps, SBA anticipates decreased development needs for this effort in FY 2018.

* CDFI Justification by SBA to Congress

Unlike other CDFI Fund programs, the CDFI Bond Guarantee Program (BGP) — enacted through the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 — does not offer grants, but is instead a zero-subsidy federal credit program, designed to function at no cost to taxpayers. Under the BGP, the secretary of the Treasury provides a 100% guarantee of long-term bonds issued to CDFIs, with a maximum maturity of 30 years. The BGP does not require discretionary budget authority for its credit subsidy, but the annual loan guarantee limitations are appropriated. Through September 30, 2016, Treasury had issued $1.1 billion in bond guarantee commitments to 17 CDFIs that have supported investments in low-income and underserved communities, including for the development of multi-family rental properties, charter schools, and healthcare facilities. The budget proposes to extend and reform the BGP through 2018 with an annual commitment limitation of $500 million and a minimum individual bond size of $50 million, while maintaining strong protections against credit risk.

* SBDCs justification by SBA to Congress

The FY 2018 request strengthens SBA outreach center programs by reducing duplicative services, coordinating best practices, and investing in communities that will benefit from SBA’s business center support. As a result, the SBA is confident that it will be better positioned to strengthen local partnerships and more efficiently serve program participants while achieving savings over the FY 2017 Enacted levels.

FY18 Legislative Proposals PROPOSAL

SBDC and WBC Data Collection

Currently, Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) and Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) collect data on each individual and small business to whom they provide counseling and training services. Except for the limited purposes identified in the Small Business Act, SBDCs and WBCs may not disclose to SBA certain information (e.g., name, address, telephone number) that they collect. However, the SBA needs access to this type of information to be able to contact the individuals or small businesses to determine their level of success after receiving counseling and training assistance. Disclosure of the information to SBA would greatly enhance the agency’s efforts to conduct rigorous program evaluations, including the impact of the counseling and training on those who received such assistance, identify best practices, and improve efficiency of the SBDC and WBC programs. As a result, SBA is proposing to add program evaluations and similar program assessments to the list of allowable purposes for which the data may be disclosed to SBA.

Writing YOUR Success Story

By Linda McMahon, SBA Administrator

Once upon a time….

It’s the classic opening to our favorite fairy tales. As children we dream of magic potions and knights in shining armor that will provide our happily ever after. How were we to know thalinda-mcmahon-high.jpgt our own hard work, skill and determination could be far more effective?

Once upon a time, my husband and I started our business sharing a desk. As he developed our product and expanded our markets, I managed the books. When the work became too much for the two of us to handle ourselves, we hired our first employee. As our business grew, we hired another. Then another. Over decades of hard work growing our business, that company we created now has grown to a publicly traded enterprise with more than 800 employees and consumers in 180 countries worldwide.

As an entrepreneur, I have truly lived the American Dream: the classic tale of taking a risk on an idea, working hard and creating something from nothing. Don’t get me wrong – we had plenty of stumbles and challenges that provided the plot twists along the way. But it’s a story I am always proud to tell.

And as head of the U.S. Small Business Administration, my goal now is to help more people have the opportunity to live the American Dream.

Yet many aspiring entrepreneurs have no idea how to get their stories started or write their next chapters.

The SBA is here to help, with resources both online and in communities from coast to coast.

During National Small Business Week, as we celebrate the 28 million small businesses that drive our nation’s economy, we also showcase the resources and services the SBA provides to entrepreneurs at every stage, whether they are starting up, expanding or getting through a tough time.

The SBA has 68 district offices and an extensive network of resource partners across America, including Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam. The experienced professionals that staff these offices offer a core group of services that we call the “three Cs and a D” – capital accesscounselingcontracts, and disaster assistance.

Many entrepreneurs need capital to start or expand their small business, combining what they have with other sources of financing. While the SBA doesn’t loan money directly to small business owners, it helps facilitate loans with a guaranty that a certain portion will be repaid. We offer counseling on starting, scaling and succeeding in business, from how to draft a business plan to how to export your product overseas. And we train small businesses on how to compete for government contracts, especially those set aside exclusively for small business owners. Finally, SBA provides a helping hand to small businesses recovering from disasters.

As I think back on my own story as a small business owner, I wonder how much easier things might have been if we’d been aware of the many valuable services SBA provides. My hope is that as more people learn about the SBA, they will have the confidence, skills and resources they need to succeed as small business owners, and we can continue to revitalize a spirit of entrepreneurship in our country.

There’s room for far more success stories in our library.

And the SBA can help more entrepreneurs write their own “happily ever after.”

Linda McMahon serves as the 25th Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

 

 

 

Washington has many great traditions but this one must go

By Ann Sullivan, WIPP Chief Advocate

If you keep a close eye on Washington from year to year, you’ll notice some traditions that always take place. The annual White House Easter Egg Roll in the spring, when children gather to race eggs with wooden spoons down the South Lawn. The Congressional baseball game in the summer, when House Republicans face off against House Democrats at the Nationals park to raise money for charity.

And, of course, the talk of a looming government shutdown any time the previous funding mechanism is about to run out—a tradition that affects so much more than the District of Columbia.

We’ve heard it before and we’ll hear it again—If Congress doesn’t find a way to fund the government, it will shut down. In true fashion, with the deadline to pass a bill set for last Friday, April 28, Congress gave itself a little more time by passing a week long Continuing Resolution—until May 5, without altering the terms or conditions that apply to funding.

And then—a welcome break in tradition. Congressional negotiators in a bipartisan fashion, finalized a $1.1 trillion spending bill, keeping the government funded through September.

While a government shutdown rarely actually happens—when it does—it is not good for women business owners. In fact, it isn’t good for anyone. When federal contractors can’t get paid, they can’t pay the people who work for them. When they can’t pay the people who work for them, they can’t produce any work. The contractor suffers, the jobs she’s created suffer, and the economy suffers.

However, some contractors don’t have the option of laying off their employees during a shutdown. WIPP Board Chair Lisa Firestone struggled with this firsthand. In 2013, Lisa testified before Congress about the negative impact that year’s shutdown had on her business, as well as other women federal contractors. Because her company provides “essential” services, her employees continued to work and get paid during the duration of the government shutdown that year. Despite knowing she eventually would get paid from the government, there was no way to know when. She’s not the only one.

Many small business owners face this same problem and face the stress of preparing to maximize available cash in advance of a potential shut down. Between the options of a shutdown and a Continuing Resolution, a Continuing Resolution is the lesser of two evils. But, it may not be so great for women contractors either.

Continuing resolutions curb new government spending and, thus, new government projects. We know firsthand from our members that operating under a Continuing Resolution results in project delays as well. Since many agencies can’t open expired contracts for new bids, they often turn to uncompetitive bridge contracts with existing vendors to keep services moving. The problem is, according to the Department of Commerce, women-owned firms are 21% less likely than their male-owned counterparts to win government contracts. Given this significant barrier to entry, access to contracts is further exacerbated by this method of procuring goods and services.

The impact of a shutdown is harsh on contractors. If the government is your customer, the consequences are immediate. The Department of Homeland Security in the 2013 shutdown issued a warning to its contractors: “…as a consequence of the lapse, certain planned procurements may be canceled and certain existing contracts may be stopped, reduced in scope, terminated or partially terminated.” Not to mention, the chaos created with respect to lending. Since lenders rely on the IRS to verify income, lending was stopped dead in its tracks.

Let’s get rid of this tradition. Successful businesses plan ahead and so should Congress. The wide-reaching consequences spurred by Congressional inaction of a timely budget are significant. Contracts that aren’t funded by prior appropriations and aren’t essential probably will be put on hold during a shutdown – while contractors that are essential will have to continue to work, but while having to bear the cost of their employees’ salaries. The business community should be spending all of its capital expanding, not saving up for a possible government shutdown. Despite the good news for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2017, the fight has just begun for Fiscal Year 2018. It’s time for Congress to put together a plan to fund the government without worry of a shutdown or relying on Continuing Resolutions again and again so entrepreneurs can worry about what matters – running their business.

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.

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.