Four months into his second term, President Barack Obama still has not nominated anyone to take the helm of the Small Business Administration. Sentiment in the small-business community ranges from frustration to patience.
Karen Mills, the administrator of the SBA for Obama’s first four years, announced that she would not stay for a second term in February, but she agreed to continue leading the agency until her replacement is tapped. The SBA directed questions to the White House, and the White House declined to comment.
The wait is frustrating to Bob Coleman, editor of the Coleman Report, a SBA-lending industry newsletter. “It’s embarrassing,” Coleman says. “The one issue that is bipartisan in Washington is small business. Both sides of the aisle played it up during the campaign, both sides of the aisle professed their support of small business, and here we have a situation where you have a vacancy in a very powerful, bully-pulpit position.”
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The role became a cabinet-level position in 2011 when Obama also proposed merging all the federal commerce-related agencies into one. To be sure, it is not the only cabinet chair as yet unfilled. Other notable vacancies include a leader of the U.S. Department of Commerce, though Chicago billionaire and Hyatt Hotel heiress Penny Pritzker seems to be on her way towards securing the spot, and for the Department of Transportation, though a recent Senate confirmation hearing for Mayor Anthony Foxx of Charlotte, N.C., went smoothly for that position.
“This is typical Washington,” says Ami Kassar CEO of MultiFunding, a small-business lending consulting firm in Broad Axe, Pa., in an email. “It’s ironic that it was such a big deal to make the SBA head a cabinet appointee in an election year, and then when the theatrics are over, to take months to appoint a new one.”
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Other members of the small-business community were less concerned. “We would obviously like to see an administrator named as soon as possible. We are still finding in our working with the SBA that everything is working fine with the people there,” says John Arensmeyer, the CEO of the Small Business Majority, a national small-business advocacy group. “Not only is the SBA continuing to do all the stuff they normally do, they have actually now jumped in and are reaching out to small business about the health care law, which we think is great because they have a lot of credibility and they have great networks to do that.”
Some SBA watchers say it's to be expected that some cabinet positions, such as those for the Department of the State, Defense and Interior, be filled first. "I don’t want to downplay how important small business is, but I don’t think it is surprising,” says Molly Brogan, vice president of public affairs for the National Small Business Association, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan organization that advocates for entrepreneurs. “Today, at this point, I don’t think it is a major problem. If we go another three or four months, it could be. But, today, it isn’t.”
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