WIPP Works in Washington – May 2018

“Grow – Don’t Grow”

Ann Sullivan, WIPP Chief Advocate

We’ve all experienced a difficult friend or boss who tells you “do this” and then when you do it, they say “no I didn’t mean it that way.”  Then you spend the next hour trying to undo the thing they told you to do in the first place. Frustrating, right? 

That is largely what the federal government has been telling small businesses who enter public sector contracting.  The message to small businesses is “grow.”  The SBA and its stakeholders pour significant resources into helping small businesses succeed.  Those range from SBA District offices in every state, lending and counseling programs and support for programs like ChallengeHER that WIPP sponsors.

Organizations like WIPP encourage their members to think about federal contracting as a complement to commercial business.  We have spent an inordinate amount of resources promoting policies such as the women-owned small business contracting program, subcontracting and acquisition strategies designed to provide more opportunities for the government to buy from women-owned firms.

But then, the government says “wait don’t grow” by implementing a pretty rigid system of determining when a company is too big to be small.  SBA determines this by a system called size standards.  The government determines the average size of business revenue in industry categories and sets a size that a business cannot exceed in order to take advantage of small business contracting programs.  The SBA then takes the average of the last three years of your revenue, deciding whether you are small or have exceeded the size standard, bumping you into being a midsize company.  Ouch.

This is exactly the position WIPP Chair, Lisa Firestone finds herself in.  She testified at a House Small Business Committee hearing on the challenges larger small businesses face when approaching the top of their size standard. Lisa testified on behalf of WIPP, telling her story of watching her company, Managed Care Advisors go from a small boutique healthcare consulting company to the leading provider of Federal Workers’ Compensation Case Management Services. She grew a four-person company to facing a daunting dilemma of growing beyond the $15 million size standard for her industry.

Witnesses at the hearing, “No Man’s Land: Middle-Market Challenges for Small Business Graduates,” discussed the issue of options available to small businesses who reach the top of their size standard.  Should they stay small, sell their business or venture into a midsize company that has to compete for government business with the 110 very large companies? According to Bloomberg Government’s recent report, Mid-Tier Market Report: 2018, only 325 companies have made the decision to be a midsize vendor to the federal government.  This is in contrast to the 118,000 small businesses who sell to the federal government.

How can this trend be reversed?  The Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, a WIPP partner in the initiative, “Pathway to Growth” proposes the following recommendations:

  1. Agency: Bring Multiple Award Contracts (MAC) requirements in line with the capabilities of midsize firms. It is essential to sustain midsize businesses participation on these MACs to diversify the types of businesses engaging in the federal market.
  2. Regulatory: Require a five-year look-back for the purpose of Small Business Administration (SBA) size determination. Due to the long contract award process and significant size of task orders, small businesses can quickly outgrow their size standard without having the time and resources to invest in firm infrastructure. This change would allow businesses a smoother transition by changing the receipt calculation by using the lowest three of these preceding five years of receipts, to determine the average.
  3. Legislative: Deduct research and development (R&D) expenses and expenditures from total revenue for size determination. This recommendation supports the government’s initiative to stimulate innovation and allows companies to pursue and develop new products and processes, without undue penalty.

The execution of these proposals would set the record straight: small business owners should grow their business – and those that do should not be penalized for that growth but supported by our federal government. It’s time to end the mixed signals.

Small Things Come In Big Packages

AnnSullivan new

May 2016 WIPP Works In Washington

Small Things Come In Big Packages

By Ann Sullivan, WIPP Government Relations Team

 

In an epic week fueled by bipartisanship, the Senate Small Business Committee and the House Armed Services Committee put small business issues front and center in a way that was nothing short of amazing. This just goes to show that the “do-nothing Congress” does in fact do plenty when it comes to small business.

Let’s first talk about the Senate Small Business Committee. Members of the Committee introduced and are expected to pass three bills important to WIPP. One bill would extend the Small Business and Innovative Research program (SBIR) and a related program the Small Business Technology Transfer program (STTR) and included a mandate to do better outreach to women and minorities (thanks to Michigan’s Senator Gary Peters). The government funds innovative products and services through federal grants to bring the products to commercialization. Don’t know about it—look into it at: SBIR.gov. By the way, this is part of WIPP’s access to capital platform – so another accomplishment for our advocacy.

Are you a contractor? Then you might be interested in the introduction of The Small Business Transforming America’s Regions Act of 2016. If you aren’t aware of the HUBZone program, you should look into it. The government gives a bid preference to companies who invest in low-income areas. It could supplement the WOSB program you already belong to. At least check it out at SBA’s HUBZone Page.

Need capital? The Committee is expected to modernize the Microloan Program administered by the SBA. The program lends $50,000 and below to companies who need capital. In case you didn’t know it, there is a whole nationwide network of lenders who stand ready to lend, backed by the government’s guarantee against failure.

Now onto the House Armed Services Committee. This Committee and its counterpart, the Senate Armed Services Committee, prepare a bill each year, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that funds all military operations. It is a must-pass bill because the military requires certainty in funding. In order for the US to keep its competitiveness, it must have a strong and diverse industrial base. That’s where small businesses come in.

To that end, a whole section of the bill is devoted to small business contracting changes and strengthening resources for women entrepreneurs including women’s business centers. The bill:

 

  • Requires an annual report on the share of contract dollars awarded to small businesses without any exclusions
  • Establishes a pilot program that enables contractors to receive a past performance rating by submitting a request to the contracting officer and/or prime contractor
  • Requires the SBA to develop a list of no-cost programs that assist small businesses in compliance with Federal regulations.
  • Strengthens agency small business offices to recommend which small business set-aside programs should be used for each contract at their agency.
  • Requires commercial market representatives (CMRs) to assist prime contractors in identifying small business subcontractors and assess the prime’s compliance with their subcontracting plans
  • Adds HUBZone and SDVOSB to small business office oversight (previously not listed in statute but already happening in practice)

 

In case you do not remember, the Women’s Business Center reforms would raise the funding authorization level by 50% from $14.5M to $21.75M and increase grants to individual centers as well as streamline the program. Better program, better training for women.

How did all of this happen? Champions. The leadership of the House Small Business Committee, which passed the provisions now part of the NDAA, worked together hand-in-glove to assist our businesses. Chair Steve Chabot (R-OH) and Ranking Member Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) set the gold standard of getting things done without a partisan fuss. Similarly, the Senate Small Business Committee, under the guidance of Chair David Vitter (R-LA) and Ranking Member Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) worked together to introduce reforms good for small businesses.

The real story behind all of this activity is the power of small businesses uniting to ask for changes in contracting and better resources to succeed. Organizations, such as WIPP are the champions, walking the halls of Congress to press for better programs and fairness in contracting.

While I would agree that Congress is more partisan than ever before, there are bright spots. This past week was certainly one—all made possible by elected officials crossing party lines for the good of women-owned companies. If you ever wondered what your WIPP membership is paying for or if you need a reason to join WIPP, look no further. The advocacy WIPP provides on your behalf is the best return on investment you may ever find. It requires almost none of your time, requires a minimal monetary investment (dues) and you get a whole team dedicated to advancing your agenda to the Congress on a daily basis.

I call that value.

 

Filing Frenzy: Tax Deadline Strikes Today

tax-day

By: Jake Clabaugh, WIPP Government Relations

Tax Day is upon us and woman business owners have been working overtime. Not on growing their firms, planning investments or making important hiring decisions, but on tax compliance. At least, that’s according the House Small Business Committee, which took a look at the burdensome tax.

Forgetting tax liability – the amount a business owes – the Committee focused on how difficult it is for small businesses to satisfactorily comply with dense tax rules. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), small businesses spend 5.5 billion hours preparing and filing taxes – time that should be spent growing the business. The costs and complexity of calculating tax provisions makes it difficult for smaller businesses to take advantage of incentives designed to reward investment. As a result, larger businesses that can incur the costs of calculation reap the rewards.

As we’ve heard from WIPP members across the country, tax certainty is a top priority. Clarity on what provisions and incentives will be enacted would provide businesses with the ability to plan ahead, rather than adjust to a changing environment. For the last few years, Congress has passed legislation solely for “tax extenders” – deductions and credits that were set to expire at the end of the previous year, but were extended to cover the current tax year. While many of these credits could provide some relief for small businesses, firms spent the entire year without knowing if these provisions would be available. Hardly an efficient way to have to run your business.

A simpler tax code would reduce compliance time and allow owners to focus on their business – not the latest tax rules. Also, small businesses should be able to take advantage of the same incentives that larger businesses can. WIPP will continue to focus our advocacy on the two guiding principles of simplicity and fairness for women-owned businesses.

Could comprehensive reform – not seen since the 1980’s – be on the horizon? House Ways and Means Committee Chair Kevin Brady (R-TX) announced last week that his Committee is planning to release a tax-reform “blueprint” this summer. Additionally, Members of the House and Senate have stirred over international tax reform in the wake of recent corporate mergers. While the conversations are ongoing, comprehensive tax reform in an election year, with an ardently divided Congress seems, at least in our view, unlikely.

For updates on tax policy and other finance issues, please visit WIPP’s Economy and Tax section and WIPP’s Economic Blueprint.

 

 

House Committee Passes Bipartisan Federal Contractor Changes

By: Ann Sullivan, WIPP Government Relations

 

In its first major action of 2016, the House Small Business Committee approved changes to federal contracting which affect small companies who do business with the federal government. Acting in a bipartisan manner is relatively rare in Congress these days, but the Committee unanimously adopted the legislation, The Defending America’s Small Contractors Act of 2016, with over two-thirds of the Committee contributing content to the bill.

 

For the last three years, the House Small Business Committee has pushed for changes to the government’s buying rules and this week’s legislation was no exception. In our view, the following changes in the bill will prove to be significant to small contractors. One attacks an age-old problem – showing past performance without a government contract. The bill establishes a pilot program that enables contractors to receive a past performance rating by submitting a request to the contracting officer and/or prime contractor.  Second, the bill strengthens agency small business offices to recommend which small business set-aside programs should be used for each contract at their agency.

Anne CrossmanThird, WIPP’s recommendations were incorporated in the legislation, including one made by Anne Crossman, a member of WIPP’s Leadership Advisory Council, in her testimony before the Committee. Anne took the opportunity to highlight WIPP’s “if you list us, use us” policy for prime contractors’ subcontracting plans. This bill incorporates WIPP’s recommendations to clarify the role of commercial market representatives (CMRs) in encouraging prime contractors to work with small businesses. Lastly, the bill takes the first step toward getting a better handle on the actual amount set aside for small businesses by requiring agencies to divulge awards counted toward multiple small business goals.

An amendment offered by Rep. Takai scored a victory for women entrepreneurs by allowing Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) to provide procurement assistance to women participating in the DOD mentor-protégé program. Rep. Takai’s statement on the amendment is available here and includes WIPP’s statement of support.

These improvements set the stage for a productive year of improvements for small contractors. The bill, which passed unanimously, will now be considered by the full House of Representatives. The House Small Business Committee is off to a great start. We can’t wait to see what they do next.

From the Hill: Small Contractors Make Big Gains in New Legislation

By: Jake Clabaugh WIPP Government Relations

 

ChabotThe House Small Business Committee is leading off 2016 by continuing its
efforts to make federal contracting more accessible to small businesses. Committee Chair Steve Chabot’s (R-OH) legislation, Defending America’s Small Contractors Act of 2016, makes an array of changes to procurement policy.

Although impossible to summarize all of the changes in a few paragraphs, which is why we have the link to the bill above, here are the highlights. The bill tackles transparency by rewriting – in plain English – the requirements for small business procurements. Since getting past performance is an obstacle for contractors getting started in federal contracting, the bill establishes a pilot program that enables them to get a past performance rating by submitting a request to the contracting officer and prime contractor. Offices of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBUs) will now have increased authority to recommend which small business set-aside programs are most appropriate for each contract at their agency. The Act even touches the Department of Defense (DOD) by requiring that Mentor-Protégé plans in DOD’s program be approved by SBA – an update aimed at adding consistency to Mentor-Protégé Programs government-wide – but controversial since the last time we looked the Defense Department does not generally defer to SBA.

If some of these changes sound familiar, it’s because Anne Crossman, a member of WIPP’s Leadership Advisory Council, proposed several of these improvements during a Subcommittee hearing last fall.  Specifically, Anne noted WIPP’s “if you list us, use us” policy for prime contractors’ subcontracting plans and in her testimony she advocated for prime contractors to be accountable to the subcontractors listed on their plans. This bill incorporates Anne’s recommendations by requiring commercial market representatives (CMRs) assist prime contractors in identifying small business subcontractors and assess the prime’s compliance with their subcontracting plans.

The intent of the legislation is to assist federal agencies in meeting their small business contracting goals. The goal for women owned companies of 5% has never been met. A continued push for data transparency surfaces in the bill as well, requiring agencies to do a better job of reporting the contracting dollars awarded to small businesses.

The Committee is expected to hold a markup to consider this legislation during the week of January 11.  The WIPP Government Relations team will continue to provide updates as the bill moves through Congress.

More Taxes? No Taxes? How About Fair Taxes

By John Stanford, WIPP Government Relations

WIPP recently submitted testimony to the House Small Business Committee on comprehensive tax reform. This blog gives an overview of WIPP’s advocacy efforts. For more details, I encourage you to read the testimony. Our government relations team strives to make official communications as easy-to-read as possible, but should you have questions please reach out to WIPP.   

 

Women entrepreneurs deserve a tax system that rewards the effort, tenacity, and risk it takes to start and grow a business. Moreover, they deserve a system of revenue collection (because that’s what taxes are) that is simple and fair.

In testimony submitted to the House Small Business Committee, WIPP said just that. Citing reports from the IRS National Taxpayer Advocate as well as the SBA Office of Advocacy, the testimony documents what women business owners already know: the tax system is broken, failing under the weight of complexity, uncertainty and outdated policies. But more importantly, the testimony addresses the impact of possible reforms – and the need for any overhaul to be comprehensive.

What does that mean? It means that the idea to lower the corporate tax rate, favored by the White House and some in Congress, must not happen independently of adjusting individual rates in a similar manner. This distinction matters because so many businesses, including almost 9 in 10 women-owned businesses, are structured as “pass-through” entities paying taxes as individuals (including S-Corps, Sole-proprietorships, partnerships, and LLCs).

Corporate-only reforms would be unfair to these businesses – and for that reason WIPP has always supported comprehensive (corporate + individual) reform. The testimony underscored this important point.

In addition, WIPP identified tax policies that, absent major reforms, would benefit women entrepreneurs. This includes making more small business tax credits and deductions permanent. In recent years, these tax “extenders” have been extended (hence their name) at the last minute, or even retroactively – not a good way for business owners to plan their budgets.

WIPP also asked Congress to consider tax credits that benefit new businesses, helping offset the costs of launching a new company. Another policy request was to avoid changing the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) provisions in the tax code, as these have proven to be both popular and good tools to incentivize productivity and long-term business health.

In agreement with the idea that simple businesses (sales – costs = income) should have simple taxes, WIPP also supports simplifying the cash accounting method and expanding its optional use to more small businesses. Finally, with healthcare costs an always-growing burden on employers, WIPP continues its support of expanding the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit so more women entrepreneurs minimize the cost of providing healthcare to employees.

More ideas for reforming the tax system to incentivize entrepreneurship and innovation are out there. WIPP will continue working to identify policies that let women business owners focus more on their business and less on complex tax requirements. At the end of the day, all of these decisions should be made with the basic principles of simplicity and fairness in mind. And that’s exactly what we asked Congress to do.