Small-business owners had plenty to say about federal regulations on May 18th at a hearing by the U.S. Small Business Administration in Henrico County, Virginia.
They complained about an overabundance of regulatory agencies that make it difficult to run businesses. They talked about corruption, intimidation and unfair treatment by people in federal agencies. They named names.
Jerry Askew Sr., one of 11 businesspeople to testify, said he had been investigated for 14 years by the U.S. Department of Defense and unfairly was accused of violations. He runs Marine Environmental Services Inc. in Portsmouth. “I believe in my innocence,” he said. “I hope my voice is heard.”
Esther H. Vassar, national ombudsman for the SBA who came from Washington to hear their concerns, said two businesspeople refused to testify because they were afraid of government retaliation. She said the intent of the hearing was to create a more cooperative regulatory environment. “We are serious about hearing your concerns and working to resolve them.”
About 60 people attended. Also listening were Richmond SBA District Director Ron Bew, members of the Regional Regulatory Fairness board and representatives from federal regulatory agencies. Vassar urged regulators not to be quick to be punitive but rather to work with small businesses. She said most businesses want to comply with regulations but may need help understanding the regulations.
David Faria, who runs Technical Solution Providers in Fairfax Station, said his firm was listed as a top contractor for the Department of Defense. But everything broke down after two years. He said his company was marred by the whims and fancy of one government employee who wanted to give another company the contract. “I am here to testify about how one federal government employee can make a huge difference in destroying a business.” Allegations of wrongdoing were made against his company, but nothing ever stuck, he said. However, the government employee unfairly issued a “a cure notice” or sanction against his company, barring it from going after another federal contract, Faria said. “My humble plea is to make sure this doesn’t happen to any other company,” he said.
Henrico businessman Whit Baldwin said the regulatory environment has become overbearing, time-consuming and expensive for small businesses. “We accept a lot of risks, but every day it becomes more difficult for us,” said Baldwin, who runs HeloAir Inc., a helicopter transport business. Baldwin rattled off at least 20 state, local and federal agencies that he would need to contact for certification if he were to start his business today. “And that is just the snapshot.” If young adults were to ask him if he would start his business all over again, he would tell them they had lost their minds, he said.
Complaints also were lodged against the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Fort Eustis Small Business Office, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Transportation. Vassar said the agencies will have 30 days to respond to the complaints but may be granted extensions.
— By Carol Hazard – Richmond Times-Dispatch – Published: May 19, 2010