This week I attended another local NDIA meeting and learned something new that is helpful to all of small business. I think that is probably the largest benefit in belonging to organizations like the NDIA, you are continually exposed to other people in the same industry and you continually learn new things. In this case, I leaned something that could be of great value to small businesses that I wasn't aware even existed previously. I'm talking of the Office of National Ombudsman in the Small Business Administration (SBA).
First of all, I have heard the term "Ombudsman" before but wasn't quite sure what it meant and what all it entailed. A quick trip to Wickipedia gave me the answer. The quick summary is this is an individual appointed to represent the interests of the "public". In this case, the Ombudsman in the SBA is to represent the small business concerns to the Federal Government Agencies. The purpose is to help ensure that regulations are applied fairly and that the small business has some recourse if they are not.
The way this works it that the Office of National Ombudsman receives a complaint or an issue from a small business. Then the Ombudsman acts as a liaison between the business and the agency to get a very top level response. This response from the Agency is required within 30 days. Now the response may not always be what the small business desires, it could be as simple as the Agency believes they are acting within the scope of the regulations. But there already have been cases where the complaints resulted in policy change notices issued by the Agency. Overall, this serves to raise awareness to issues as a minimum. That is a good thing. And, if positive change can be achieved every once in a while, this is a positive for small business. Having said that, I must also caution that this is not a "complaint box" for everything. The goal for this is to uncover issues where regulations are not being followed in order to correct these basic misunderstandings. If you think that something is unfair but it follows a regulation, then this might not be the avenue to pursue. A change in regulation may need to start with your congressional representative or other similar channels.
If you have a complaint issue but are worried about being singled out, the issue can be turned in confidentially. If you have questions on this process or would like some help in this regard, please give me a call. I do know someone on one of the Small Business Regulatory Fairness Boards.