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.

In With the New

By Ann Sullivan, WIPP Chief Advocate

With inauguration festivities up ahead and a newly elected Congress hard at work, it is time to get down to business. The New Year serves as a good reminder that while there may be some new faces in Washington, many of the policy ideas are those we have seen before. Below are some highlights of what is both old and new in Washington for 2017.

Old and New. For the first time in years, our Country has unified government in the House, Senate, and White House. The difference this time is that the government is united by the Republicans, not Democrats. Amazingly, it’s only been six years since the Democrats controlled the government. New—now the Republicans are in change.

Old. Some problems don’t change. Creating more opportunities for women entrepreneurs to access capital continues to be a major theme for WIPP in 2017. Today, women entrepreneurs receive only 4% of commercial loan dollars. WIPP’s access to capital platform Breaking the Bank has been well received by policy makers because it is focused on solutions.

New. Some problems just surfaced. WIPP recently released a report, “Do Not Enter: Women Shut Out of U.S. Government’s Biggest Contracts,” finding clear evidence that women-owned small businesses have limited opportunities to win some of the federal government’s most sought-after contracts, despite a proven ability to deliver innovative goods and services. The report also outlines steps policy makers can take to rectify the problem.

Old. 2016 Was certainly a year of regulations for federal contractors. From Paid Sick Leave, to Overtime, Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces—it was often difficult to keep them straight.

New. 2017 is the year of deregulation. President-elect Trump and the U.S. House have strongly indicated many Obama administration rules will be repealed. The House just passed the Midnight Relief Act to quickly repeal any rule finalized in the last 60 days of an Administration. WIPP supports efforts to make it easier for women entrepreneurs to work with the government.

New. Government contracting finalized. While it took many years, SBA has finally released the new all-small business Mentor Protégé Program, and new rules making it easier for WOSBs to work with other WOSBs. WIPP looks forward to working with SBA to ensure WOSBs can use these program changes to grow our businesses.

Old. Wait –Nothing gets repealed in government contracting, there is just more to pile on.

Old and New. In 2017, 125 women hold seats in the U.S. Capitol building. One hundred and four women hold seats in the U.S. Congress, making up over 19 percent of the chamber. A greater percentage of women serve in the U.S. Senate, where there are 21 women (making up 21 percent). While the total number of women is identical to the number last Congress, there is one key difference—64% of the new women elected are women of color.

New. Firsts in Congress. Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware is the first woman, and woman of color to serve from Delaware. Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto is the first woman, and first woman of color Nevada has elected to the U.S. Senate.

As WIPP prepares to work in the 115th Congress, we plan to present our ideas based on input from membership. We will work with all Members of Congress, and the new Administration, because one of the few things everyone agrees on is that enabling businesses to grow strengthens our economy. Women are entering the ranks of business ownership at record rates, and launching a net of more than 1,100 new businesses each day. We will work for the next several years to reinforce and grow the success of women’s business owners.

So what are we waiting for—let’s get to work.

WIPP @ WORK: Decrease Company Healthcare Costs With Self-Care

WIPP partnered with Pfizer Consumer Health Care to discuss the growing important of “self-care,” and ways business owners can decrease health costs for their companies. Nationally, employers lose a total of $165 billion in lost productivity costs due to employee health issues. Much of this, however, can be mitigated by encouraging employee wellness — which doesn’t have to be expensive. Gary Surmay, Director of North America Public Affairs at Pfizer, shares employee wellness tips for employers in the webinar Self Care: Empowering Employee Health & Wellness. Filled with clear and simple infographics, this webinar easily guides employees and employers to take control of their health and get back to work. 

Coupons on self-care medicines to get you started:

Santa’s Wish list for Eight Crazy Nights

By: Ann Sullivan, WIPP Chief Advocate

Being located in the Nation’s Capital and leading the advocacy team for WIPP, gives us the opportunity to wish for things uniquely Washington. So, in the spirit of the holidays, and maybe a little tongue in cheek, here’s our wish list for Santa with a nod to Hanukkah.

Santa, please bring us:

1. A Congress that knows how to make deals. This is also called bipartisanship but at the heart of the matter, it requires willingness to bend without compromising principles (or giving away the store). A lost art in Washington, straight party votes and initiatives lead to a “do-nothing” Congress. Perhaps the new President–elect, who wrote a book on deal-making, can assist.

2. More women in Congress. Building on the first wish, we know firsthand that women in Congress are inclined to be practical and open to working with the opposing party. The 114th Congress will start with a record 108 women. Santa, please get more women to run for public office.

3. Busting through the 5% women-owned small business goal for federal contracts. We know that record $$$ were awarded to women-owned firms in 2016, but there is so much work to do to ensure they have equal access to federal contracts. Santa, you may have to place some of your elves in federal agencies to make this happen.

4. Rethinking Red Tape. Federal contractors got hit with lots of new requirements, for example, the Executive Order called Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces. Although the contracting community pointed out many flaws in these Executive Orders, they were largely ignored. So, Santa, just get rid of these Executive Orders.

5. More WIPP accomplishments for 2017 than we had in 2016. Ok, we know this one’s on us. We have a pretty long list of 2016 accomplishments on the legislative and regulatory side but we want the sled to overflow. Because of our efforts, Health Reimbursement Accounts are an option for small employers, contracts through the WOSB procurement program increased to over $18 billion, there is a new Mentor-Protégé Program for WOSBs, and more!

6. The end of massive motorcades. This really is an inside Washington request, but the motorcades for the President and visiting dignitaries have now reached epic proportions and wait times have stretched to half an hour. Talk about impeding commerce. We could really use a little Santa ”stealth” when it comes to moving the president around the city.

7. A fresh look. We are in the final days of the 114th Congress and about to head into the 115th Congress. Out with the old and in with the new. Here’s hoping Congress hits the reset button to look at women’s business issues in a new way.

8. A stable federal budget cycle. Actions of Congress directly affect the behavior of the economy and the stock market. Congress has all the tools it needs to produce a budget and accompanying appropriations every year. These last budget minute shuffles and funding extensions damage the economy and really put small contractors in a tough place. We realize this is a really big ask. But our understanding is that Santa can work his magic anywhere.

WIPP’s advocacy throughout 2016 has yielded great results for women entrepreneurs, but our strong advocacy is never over. There is still much work to be done. Thank you for your support and happy holidays from the WIPP Policy Team!

2016: What Kind of Year it has Been

While there is little doubt that most Americans think our political system is broken, quite a bit was accomplished in Washington this year.

In February, two announcements by SBA marked the result of more than 15 years of WIPP’s advocacy. For the first time ever, the federal government met its goal of awarding 5% of all contracts to women-owned firms. The following day, the WOSB procurement program, which helped make reaching the goal a reality, was expanded from 83 to 113 industries. The government now contracts $18 billion a year with women-owned small businesses, largely due to this program we spent so many years building.

As the snow began to melt, focus turned to the final months of the Obama Presidency. The Administration moved swiftly to issue Executive Orders aligned with their priorities. New rules were finalized from the U.S. Department of Labor including Fair Pay Safe Workplaces, Overtime, and Paid Sick Leave (though all three are under litigation and are expected to be rescinded by President-elect Trump). The General Services Administration finalized the Transactional Data Rule which adds an unnecessary burdensome reporting requirement for GSA schedule contract holders.

Regulations can also help small business. SBA released its updated Limitations on Subcontracting rule, making it easier for WOSBs to follow subcontracting rules by encouraging additional work with other WOSBs. SBA also began accepting applications for the long-awaited all-small Mentor Protégé Program, that helps WOSBs team with a mentor business and pursue federal opportunities.

In the fall, we welcomed Jane Campbell as the new President of WIPP. Her longtime advocacy for women entrepreneurs, coupled with her experience as a business owner, as the first woman Mayor of Cleveland, and as Staff Director of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, allowed her to hit the ground running.

At the end of the year, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a bill that include policies to help women small business owners by establishing a pilot program to allow subcontractors to seek past-performance credit and dedicates additional agency resources to assist small contractors. These are positive changes that will expand access to the federal market for women entrepreneurs.

Also passed as Congress comes to a close was the “21st Century Cures” legislation that addresses medical funding, cancer research, and changes the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process. Inside the legislation is the reintroduction of Health Reimbursement Arrangements or HRAs, which offer business owners a tax-friendly way to subsidize employee medical costs, including insurance premiums. WIPP has long advocated for the return of HRAs because allowing employees to find their own individual insurance and reimbursing them was popular with small firms wishing to offer health benefits.

Finally, in 2016 our country elected the most diverse Congress, with more female senators than ever before. As departing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) stated during his farewell speech, “the Senate is a better place because of the women being here.” We know women in Washington get more done.

As we look forward to 2017, WIPP and women entrepreneurs will continue to press for important policy changes with the Trump Administration and the new Congress. We count on your support to make that happen.

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

Janice Hamilton: WIPP National Partner of the Month – December 2016

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Janice Hamilton

Interview with Janice Hamilton, CEO and founder of CarrotNewYorkContinue reading

WIPP leadership at NASDAQ

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WIPP joined with the NYC Department of Small Business Services to ring the NASDAQ opening bell on Friday, in honor of Small Business Saturday.

WIPP leadership at NASDAQ

Martha Acosta’s Story from ChallengeHER in New Mexico

_dsc0125Interview with Martha Acosta, Instructional Designer, Learning Consultant, and Instructor about her business, experience, and take aways from ChallengeHER in Albuquerque, NM.

1. Tell us a little about your business and its mission.

Martha: I have had a business as a leadership and organizational learning consultant since 2007 and I have been in the training field for about 20 years in total. I am an instructional designer and I also instruct. I’ve been working on my own for several years now and I just started building my company and hiring people.

My freelance work started out with a contract for Cisco Systems, which then led to contracts with Intel and Harvard Business Publishing, where I work as a contractor and do a lot of leadership training for banks, and large multinationals like General Motors and Colgate through them.

My organization’s mission is to help improve learning within organizations and my academic specialty is in leadership and organizational learning. For Harvard I teach a full range of subjects from the MBA curriculum.

Within federal government my specialty is in the safety leadership area.

Before I started working on my own, I was a training manager at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico where I led a team that delivered safety training and responded to safety incident corrective actions. It is a passion of mine to help organizations deal with failure.

  1. How difficult was the move to self-employment and becoming an independent contractor?

Martha: It was quite tough, from the beginning I even regretted leaving (who leaves a government job, right?). But then I managed to score a contract in Silicon Valley which was a gift to my business. My day rate tripled since I started which would never have happened in regular employment. I learned to love the freedom and many income opportunities I can create for myself. But it also came with many lessons learned such as the need to manage my cash flow to cover for seasonal variation so I had to start thinking about my income differently.

  1. Have you always planned on doing business with the federal government?

Martha: I wanted to grow my business which was difficult to do due to my narrow specialty and freelancer status. People wanted to hire just me as an expert so it was difficult to start building a team around me to form a company.

I believe that the contract with the U.S. Forest Service which I just signed will give me the opportunity to work with more people on a larger scale.

  1. What shaped your decision to start pursuing Federal Contracts?

Martha: Since my work at Los Alamos I have been interested in high-reliability organizations, that do high-risk operations, such as the nuclear industry and firefighting. Through my work, I have learned that leadership and culture are very important for ensuring that high-reliability organizations are reliable. That’s why I would like to pursue more federal contracts because I think there is something I can offer in that area.

How has this shaped your business?

Martha: I really hope that government contracts will enable me to start hiring people. I’ve contracted freelancers before but that was on a short-term basis. So I see a lot of possible impacts of government contracts on my business.

  1. How do you think ChallengeHER and the Women Owned Small Business (WOSB) program help women-business owners in the process?

Martha: ChallengeHER is a great opportunity to learn about all available resources and people which are out there for free ready to help women get federal contracts. I had no idea! I also believe that we have such a great advantage with the WOSB and EDWOSB program which can offer tremendous opportunities. We just need to learn how to use it.

The ChallengeHER conference also helped open my eyes about all the opportunities within the WOSB program and SBA as a whole that can help me to pull in other people and go after contracts that I can’t do by myself. So I am excited about all the opportunities.

  1. Could you share the key takeaways you took from the ChallengeHER event?

Martha: There were many big eye-openers during the event. One of the key lessons was from Sally Walton’s (Procurement Center Representative, U.S. Small Business Administration) lesson – get to know your competitors. I haven’t realized before how valuable partnerships can be for getting bigger contracts and getting financing needed for hiring more people. I also learned the importance of building relationships with federal buyers, competitors, other big businesses in my field to find out different ways to partner with other organizations on contracts. So I will be putting in place a business and marketing plan to get to know my competitors.

Another big eye-opener was when we found out through talking to SBA that I could be in other programs than just WOSB, such as 8(a) and Disadvantaged Small Business. If you have all of these different certifications that makes you more eligible for set asides and contractors can get multiple credits. So one of the first things that my business manager will do is to get us certified in all these different programs. That was really helpful.

I also learned a lot by talking to Los Alamos and Sandia Laboratories and learnt more about what they might be interested in and I also got some key contacts, which is terrific.

They also mentioned the importance of monitoring the success of the contracts. My contract doesn’t have many milestones or targets so I should probably create those to make sure to have tangible results to demonstrate the success of the contract for future negotiations.

So overall it was an incredibly useful event for me.

  1. What contracts are you currently working on?

Martha: As mentioned above, I just got my first government contract this September with U.S. Forest Service. I got brought in because I am a subject matter expert in organizational learning and culture. They do reviews after fatality and safety incidents and they put a lot of effort to understanding why they happened. First they wanted me to help them with their learning review process. However, subsequently they found out that I could help them in the creation of their online learning efforts. So consequently my contract grew into a much larger one where I’m helping them roll out an online University possibly even into other stakeholders within USDA.

The reason why I got asked to do that initially is because in Los Alamos we had several incidents that shut the lab down when I was working there. My contact at the U.S. Forest Service knew that I was involved in these investigations and learning reviews before. So thanks to my contacts from Los Alamos I got in touch with the Director of Human Performance, Innovation and Organizational Learning within the U.S. Forest Service and they were looking for experts for their learning reviews.

  1. What would you recommend to other WOSBs doing business with federal government?

Martha: It’s also one thing I learned from the ChallengeHER – pretty much anything that you do, there is part of the government that is going to buy that. It’s really a matter of figuring out that niche.

Also use all the available resources and people that make their living out of offering free help, so use them!