Councilmember David Grosso’s opening remarks from the Committee on Business and Consumer Affairs hearing on three bills that will amend the Small Business Enterprise and Certified Business Expenditure Acts:

Thank you, Chairman Orange for holding this hearing.

Today, we are here to discuss bills that would amend the Small Business Enterprise (SBE) and Certified Business Expenditure Acts.  I do not believe that the current set-up is working well for our city businesses or agencies.  I am not suggesting we disband the SBE program, I am suggesting that we reform how it is being implemented.  I believe we can address helping small businesses in more creative ways that will help them thrive as opposed to forcing agency’s to do business with them.

Last December when the Committee held a roundtable on these issues we analyzed the Auditor’s September 2013 report that provided a substantial amount of basic data regarding each agency’s budget, the required SBE amount to be spent, and how much the agency actually did spend during the first three quarters of fiscal year 2013.  We are able to capture which agencies are in compliance and which ones are not.  And as I stated last year, from what I can tell, there is a pattern of inconsistency from agency to agency, quarter to quarter, year to year.

I believe our system is too inflexible.  Rather than spurring growth, it pushes businesses out of the District because they do not want to deal with the maze of requirements for certification.  I do not believe that we can demand that each agency meet an often intangible goal without looking at a more holistic approach that supports small businesses without over burdening government agencies. 

Creating more SBEs by expanding the scope of RFP requirements, broadening the exceptions in the Code for who qualifies as a CBE or SBE, or making blanket percentage requirements on agencies is not the answer.  

As we know, the SBE program is not unique to D.C.  Across the country, hundreds of cities and counties have small business enterprise programs in place.  Each program is different, but common themes of success include established city-wide participation and individual contracting goals. This year, the Small Business Policy Project studied the concerns of over 200 stakeholders.   In February, the project published their findings in a report that includes over 50 recommendations for improving the environment for small businesses in the District of Columbia.  Many of their recommendations are relatively simple and can be done soon.  For example we can do three things:

First we need to improve the environment for small businesses who want to operate in the city.  We can expand their resources and technical assistance funding that helps to provide support at each stage in a business’s “lifecycle.”  If there is better technical assistance then we can measure outcomes and track a business’s long term success.

Second, we need to give the small business community a voice and listen to that voice. Let small businesses express their needs and have a platform where they are heard.  For example, a small business advocate or ombudsman would help the business community to advocate for their needs and concerns.  

And lastly, we can work to improve the access to information and communication with small businesses.  If DCRA and DSLBD can streamline their processes and share more data than small businesses can thrive here.  Also, if we allow for the delay in licensing fees or other major hurdles like retail space and other economic hardships that emerging small businesses must face than we are truly helping them survive.

I would like to hear today if DSLBD would be able to implement these bills, if they truly address SBE and CBE compliance, and if there aren’t better ways to assist each agency to meet SBE goals and how they engage with stakeholders to raise participation.

I would like to work together with you, Chairman Orange and the Committee to find ways that government can better assist small businesses so that they can thrive in D.C. and so that SBE’s can be involved in all of our contracts.