Advocacy and SBA National Ombudsman Formalize Intent to Cooperate on Small Business Regulatory Issues
By Brooke Justus, Public Affairs Liaison
There’s no secret that small businesses face a high share of federal regulatory burden because they lack economies of scale. Thankfully, there are two offices in the federal government working together to ensure their regulatory concerns are represented on a national level. On Dec. 5, 2019, the Office of Advocacy and the SBA Office of the National Ombudsman formalized the long-standing cooperation between the two offices by signing an updated memorandum of understanding (MOU).
In 1980, Congress enacted the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA), which required federal agencies to analyze the effects of regulation on small entities. In compliance with the RFA, Advocacy acts as an independent voice for small business within the federal government by representing small business concerns on proposed rules and identifying alternative solutions to lessen the impact.
The Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) amended the RFA in 1996 to implement enforcement procedures for the Act and address federal agencies that failed to comply. It also established the Office of the National Ombudsman, which monitors the regulatory enforcement activities of federal agencies and serves as a point of contact for small businesses who are subject to unfair regulatory enforcement. The Ombudsman acts as an impartial liaison between small business and agencies by submitting any comments about unfair enforcement to the appropriate agencies for a high-level fairness review.
While Advocacy works with proposed rules, the Ombudsman is concerned with unfair enforcement of existing regulations. The similarity of their missions often means that both Advocacy and the Ombudsman receive communications or complaints that would be handled better by the other, which creates a necessity for the offices to have protocols for sharing and disseminating information.
The offices also work together to advance their missions simultaneously, especially on the regional level. Advocacy’s regional advocates around the country interact directly with small business stakeholders daily and pass along any federal regulatory concerns to Advocacy’s Washington staff. Similarly, the Ombudsman coordinates ten Regulatory Fairness Boards comprised of private-sector representatives. Each board holds hearings to collect information about government agency enforcement activities in its own area. Regional advocates can assist with public outreach efforts for Regulatory Fairness Boards, while information shared by businesses during the board hearings can often be of use to Advocacy as well.
“Our Regulatory Fairness Board members are similar to Advocacy’s regional advocates, and act as our eyes and ears on the ground throughout the country by identifying instances of unfair enforcement, excessive penalties and fines and other regulatory issues affecting small businesses,” said National Ombudsman Stefanie Wehagen. “In 2020, we are hoping to onboard several new Regulatory Fairness Board members that were recommended to us by the regional advocates.”
In the interest of promoting the common goals of each office, the updated MOU formalizes and strengthens the longstanding relationship between Advocacy and the Ombudsman. Moving forward, both offices are confident that formalizing their intent to cooperate will ensure that small business continues to have a voice in federal government.
The full version of the MOU between the Office of Advocacy and the Office of the National Ombudsman is available here.