WASHINGTON—Witnesses at a House Small Business subcommittee hearing gave government agencies wildly mixed reviews following the Regulatory Fairness Act.
"The RFA was crafted to ensure that small businesses have the opportunity to participate in the regulatory process," said Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., chairman of the House Small Business Subcommittee on Investigations, Oversight and Regulations, at the March 14 hearing. "Unfortunately, agencies find loopholes in the law, regularly flout its analytical requirements and generally give short shrift to the RFA."
The Small Business Administration has worked hard to ensure compliance with the RFA, according to Winslow Sargeant, SBA chief counsel for advocacy. In 2012 alone, the SBA Office of Advocacy sponsored 32 roundtable discussions between agency heads and small business representatives, Sargeant said. "The result of enhanced agency cooperation with the Office of Advocacy and improved agency compliance with the RFA benefits small businesses, the regulatory environment and the overall economy."
But some agencies have ignored the RFA, creating significant trouble for small business, according to Marc Freedman, executive director for labor law policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Freedman cited the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's October 2010 decision to reinterpret the term "feasible" as it applies under the federal noise reduction standard.
"Before this proposal, employers had broad leeway to use personal protective equipment, such as noise-canceling headphones or ear plugs, as long as they provided adequate protection," he said. "Under the interpretation, 'feasibility' would be reinterpreted to mean anything that did not cause a business to go out of business."
Costly, inefficient workplace and administrative controls were the result, according to Freedman. Within three months, industry protest caused OSHA to withdraw the interpretation, he said.
Rena Steinzor, a law professor at the University of Maryland and president of the Center for Progressive Reform, accused the SBA Office of Advocacy of failing in its mission, with the collusion of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others.
The Office of Advocacy, Steinzor said, "has consciously diverted its limited, taxpayer-funded resources away from helping truly small business understand and comply with regulatory requirement toward pursuing the complaint du jour of the very large companies that call the shots at the American Chemistry Council, the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"These activities raise the disturbing prospect that the Office of Advocacy has broken the law," she said.