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3/23/2003

Got complaints? SBA wants to hear them

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — How many times does the government issue you an invitation to come and complain?

That’s just what small businesses are being asked to do, as a representative from the Small Business Administration’s Office of the National Ombudsman will be in Denver next week. He’s coming specifically to listen to small-business owners gripe about problems they’ve experienced with government regulations and agencies.

“We’ve got to hear from them in order to help them,” said Michael Barrera, the SBA’s national ombudsman. Barrera had been scheduled to be present at the regulatory fairness hearing, but because of an illness, he will be unable to attend. Still, a representative from his office will be there, as will representatives from some of the government agencies about which people will likely be complaining.

According to Jay Edwards with the SBA’s Region 8 office in Denver, representatives from the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Communications Commission and the Food and Drug Administration are all expected to be at the hearing. “I strongly suspect that the (Veterans’ Administration) will be there, too,” Edwards said.

According to Barrera, his office likes to hold a minimum of two such hearings in each of the SBA’s 10 regions annually. The last hearing for this region was held in Utah.

“One of the things we try to do is work with these agencies and see how they’re treating small businesses,” Barrera said. “I like to think of our particular office as a troubleshooter for small business.”

He said his office processes all of the input it receives in these meetings, and much of that input is factored into an annual “report card” his office produces that is distributed to regulatory agencies and members of Congress.

“Overall, the attitude here in D.C. is the agencies do want to help, but anything run by humans is not perfect,” Barrera said. “Sometimes that attitude (of wanting to help) doesn’t always translate out into the field.”

While he said the meetings can sometimes get emotional, as government regulations have been known to cause consternation among small-business owners, “A lot of times, they just want answers, even if they don’t like the answer they get. ... They can’t stand the constant ‘I’ll get back to yous,’” Barrera said.

The meetings also help the agencies understand where the small businessperson is coming from, he said. Hopefully, Barrera said, the agencies can transform themselves from “a ‘got you’ attitude to a ‘help you’ attitude.”

Edwards said he already has heard from eight or nine local small-business owners who will show up to testify, and he encourages anyone who is interested to show up and make their voices heard.

Manny Rosales, assistant administrator for the SBA’s Office of International Trade, will fly in from Washington, as will staff members from Barrera’s office.

Business Editor Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.