Two New Reports Reveal How the Office of Advocacy at the Small Business Administration Has Worked to Block Public Safeguards

by Katie Weatherford, 2/5/2013

Last Tuesday, the Center for Effective Government and the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) released separate reports on the activities of a little-known, but powerful, office within the Small Business Administration—the Office of Advocacy. The reports uncovered how the Office of Advocacy actively works to delay and block public safeguards and the release of important information that has serious implications for Americans' health and well-being.

The Center for Effective Government’s report examines the Office of Advocacy’s recent involvement in three non-regulatory, scientific assessments of chemicals: formaldehyde, styrene, and hexavalent chromium. The report criticizes the office for working to block public access to information about cancer hazards from these dangerous substances. The CPR report focuses on Advocacy’s interference with agency activities more generally and its attempts to delay rules that protect the public and the environment from unnecessary harms.

Both reports conclude that Advocacy’s activities have shifted away from ensuring agencies hear the perspectives of small businesses during the rulemaking process and suggesting ways to mitigate the impact of their rules on small business. Instead, Advocacy’s recent efforts mirror the talking points of Big Business and seek to block environmental and health and safety standards.

The American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) published a statement on the Center for Effective Government’s report, explaining that it “reminds us that the good name of small businesses are constantly used by big special interest not only to advocate for positions beneficial for those special interests but for positions that are contrary to the real interests of small businesses.”

In contrast, Susan Eckerly, the Senior Vice President for Public Policy at the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) defended the Office, claiming that “the reports focus on minor, isolated episodes that do not accurately reflect the decades of important work the Office of Advocacy has contributed throughout its history.” (Recent investigations raise questions about whether the NFIB itself actually represents small business.) But the two reports show a pattern of Advocacy operating with little oversight, engaging in activities that undermine public protections and taking positions that many small businesses do not support. These are not “isolated episodes”; rather, they suggest a rogue agency captured by Big Business.

Big businesses spend millions of dollars lobbying to block or delay environmental health and safety rules. Public money should not fund an office that echoes the talking points of these well-financed lobbying campaigns.

The Center for Effective Government and CPR reports call for Congress to conduct more oversight of the Office of Advocacy’s activities. To begin that process, the reports call for the Government Accountability Office to investigate whether Advocacy’s activities are proper. They also call for Advocacy to limit its efforts to commenting on regulations, not scientific assessments; voice concerns unique to real small businesses; and suggest ways to mitigate impacts on small businesses, rather than block health and safety protections indefinitely. As of today, the Office of Advocacy has not responded to the reports.

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