Back in May I wrote a blog on the Small Business Administration’s Office of the Ombudsman. I had the opportunity to meet the National Ombudsman, Brian Castro, earlier this month. Brian is a busy man and spends a lot of his time trying to be the “go between” for small business to the various agencies. I met Brian at a Region VIII Regulatory Fairness Hearing. Several small businesses were offering their testimony of problems or issues regarding federal regulations and enforcement or compliance actions impacting small Business. There are ten regions across the country, like our Region VIII, and Brian regularly travels around to the regions to hear testimony and to talk with Small Businesses, trade associations and other members of the small business community.
So what is a Regional Fairness Board hearing like? What types of issues does the Ombudsman listen to? I think these are fair questions and I will try to give a brief overview here. You can also visit the National Ombudsman website to learn more about the office and how to use this tool to your advantage. To start the process, there is a complaint form on the Ombudsman site but this has to be the smallest, briefest Federal form I have ever seen. This form is one page only but does ask that you supply a separate written statement of your concern.The hearing I attended was a reading, mostly by the submitting party, of a series of these complaints/concerns. The Fairness Board at this event consisted of Brian Castro (National Ombudsman), John Hart (SBA Regional Advocate for Region VIII), Allison Brown (Region VIII Regulatory Fairness Board Chair), Niles Friedman (Senior Advisor to the National Ombudsman) and Carolyn Terrell (SBA Regional Office Denver). There were 9 total testimonies at this hearing. As I mentioned, most of the testimony was given by a representative from the small business either in person or by phone where it was not convenient for the representative to attend the regional hearing meeting. There were a few complaints that a representative from the company was not available and those were read to the hearing board by volunteers. I read one for a company that could not attend. The topics were all over the board and ranged from issues with FAA regulations unfairly restricting small business development of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) to issues with SBIR contracts. The board listened to each testimony and often asked questions of clarification. In some cases they had some good advice for some immediate actions the company could try but in all cases Brian took notes to try to bring these concerns to the appropriate personnel within each agency. Working issues from all sides has a good chance of providing some productive resolution to some of these problems. I was encouraged to see this process working. Please let me know if you have any questions on how this works