Obama elevates SBA to Cabinet announces business website

Friday - 1/13/2012, 3:37pm EST

As part of a sweeping government reorganization first unveiled nearly a year ago, President Barack Obama announced the elevation of the Small Business Administration to a Cabinet-level agency.

SBA Administrator Karen Mills

The agency's bump up the hierarchy would serve as a only a temporary step, though, in a plan that would merge business and trade agencies, including the SBA, into a single department.

To go forward, the broader reorganization requires the approval of Congress, which stymied many of the President's jobs-related proposals last year and has looked askance at granting the federal government new powers.

A temporary step

Obama said until Congress acts and "as long as folks are looking for work and small businesses are looking for customers, I will keep doing everything in my power to help.

He then announced Karen Mills, the head of the Small Business Administration, would become part of his Cabinet.

That move does not require approval from lawmakers.

The promotion of Mills, "who's been doing a terrific job leading the agency," the President said, "will make sure business owners have their own seat at the table in my Cabinet meetings."

The SBA was last a part of the President's cabinet during the Clinton administration.

However, if Congress does approve the agency reorganization and the various the agencies are merged together into one conglomeration, the SBA, as a separate agency, would be eliminated.

"The SBA would be represented in the new agency by the secretary of the agency that is focused on business competitiveness," said Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Jeffrey Zients in a White House press briefing.

Zients has led the reorganization since it was first announced in Obama's 2011 State of the Union address.

Essential or symbolic?

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who has long called for the elevation of the SBA post, applauded the President's move.

"Given the central job-creation role small businesses play in our nation's economy, it is absolutely essential the head of the SBA have a seat at the Cabinet table with the President," Snowe said in a statement.

Snowe called Mills the "one person in the administration who knows how to save and create jobs, based on her extensive private-sector experience and background."

Still, the dean of the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy, Don Kettl, said the Cabinet-level rank is "largely symbolic."

Full Cabinet meetings are relatively infrequent, Kettl told Federal News Radio. "They're not big decision-making places."

He chalked it up the administration wanting to elevate the importance of small business in the discussion about job creation.

"So, it has to do more with sending signals than it does with changing basic operations," Kettl said.

BusinessUSA.gov to be unveiled

Another step in the short term will be the unveiling of a new website, BusinessUSA.gov, which would consolidate information for business owners seeking government resources, which are currently spread across a number of websites. Obama called the new site, which he said would be launched in the coming weeks, a "one-stop shop for business and exporters."

The administration first announced the website in September, as part of the President's jobs proposals, and had originally hoped to launch the site by the end of 2011.

The larger reorganization plan involves the merging of six federal agencies and departments focused on business and trade, including the:

  • Commerce Department's "core business and trade functions";
  • Small Business Administration
  • Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
  • Export-Import Bank
  • Overseas Private Investment Corporation
  • Trade and Development Agency
"In this case, six isn't better than one," Obama said. "It's redundant and inefficient. With the authority I am requesting today, we could consolidate them all into one department with one website, one phone number and one mission — helping American businesses succeed."

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