On this, the eve of the Democrat-controlled, do-something 110th Congress, we small-biz champions at GoodBiz113 have a Lettermanesque Top 10 wish list for U.S. Senators and House representatives alike:
10] Ensure that federal contracts set aside for small businesses are, in fact, awarded to small businesses. Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that many studies have shown that hundreds of government contracts set aside for small business are being awarded to large corporations.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., incoming chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, has proposed giving the Small Business Administration more time to complete size determinations and to help prevent big businesses from slipping under the radar of a bureaucratic contracting process. The SBA recently required businesses to report their size every five years. Kerry's proposal would make the reports annual.
"The protest process is supposed to keep the system honest, but what's the point of protesting a contract if nothing happens?" Kerry said.
Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., the incoming chairwoman of the House Small Business Committee, said she would work to rectify the problems faced by small businesses by ensuring that there is an effective protest system in place. She also wants to make sure that penalties are enforced.
"The fact that large businesses are being awarded with small-business contracts, and that there is no system in place with penalties or consequences for this, is extremely concerning," Velazquez said.
9] Require that federal contract-bidding and -award processes are totally transparent, and that all recipients of federal funds [e.g., public agencies, prime contractors, educational institutions] can instantly account for how dollars are being spent re compliance with small-biz and supplier-diversity statutory goals.
8] Hold federal agencies and prime contractors accountable for meeting small-business and supplier-diversity subcontracting statutory goals.
7] Require prime contractors and small businesses to endure the rigors of bidding on federal contracts. Read: No more multibillion-dollar, no-bid contracts -- e.g., for disaster relief, military/war-related products and services -- to be handed to corporate cronies of elected officials and/or administrators of federal agencies.
6] Boost small-business loan availability via SBA.
5] Overhaul No Child Left Behind. Academically, a lot of kids are getting left behind -- kids who will need to fill the jobs being vacated in droves by retiring baby boomers.
Physical education? Foreign languages? Art? Music? Drama? Sports? From coast to coast, those "complementary" body-, mind-, character- and spirit-shaping classes and activities have fallen by the wayside in far too many school districts.
Employers -- small and large alike -- need smart, articulate, well-rounded people to create, market and deliver products and services. Every child of every ethnic group, geographic location, socioeconomic background, religion, sexual orientation, physical ability, thinking style, etc., deserves a fair shot at being one of those people who can effectively contribute to society.
4] Simultaneously promote energy independence and rural economic development. According to Jackie Gleason, rural business administrator at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the United States will spend $300 billion this year on importing oil — exceeding the entire U.S. farm output for the year. If farmers can successfully capture even 20 percent of that oil revenue, he said, it will yield revenue "greater than the total of net farm income" for the nation.
Incoming U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said promoting energy independence is her "No. 1 priority." Incoming U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., said renewable energy offers the promise of keeping "the viability of our rural areas."
3] Make college more affordable by reducing interest rates on student loans. In order to grow our economy and be viable players in the global economy, we need well-educated women and men in all industries and sectors -- preferably, folks who don't have to stress about repaying student loans for years after earning their sheepskins.
2] Provide incentives for small-business owners to help make health care more affordable for their employees. Since Day One, Starbucks founder and CEO Howard Schultz has provided health insurance for all his employees -- including full-time and part-time baristas. Success leaves clues...
1] Raise the minimum wage ASAP. Yes, we know that a fair number of small-business owners will bristle [curse?] at this notion. To those folks we say, just note how prosperous Horst Rechelbacher [Aveda, Intelligent Nutrients], Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield [Ben & Jerry's] and other entrepreneurs have become by sharing the wealth with their employees. Beyond being the right thing to do, it's a karmic thing; i.e., what you put out comes back at least tenfold.
Incoming House Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., who's been assigned to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, can hardly wait to cast her vote during the 110th's first 100 hours. "I'm honored to be able to vote for raising the minimum wage," she told New Hampshire's Portsmouth Herald News. "All of the research I've read says this is not only good for workers, but small-business owners, too. If people have more money, they will spend it in the local economy."
Happy New Year, 110th Congress! Best wishes for the most productive, peaceful, fair-minded and prosperous year this country has seen in, well, too long a while.