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Roll Call

Hearing Underrepresented Small Business, Leaders Say

Small-business groups accused Republicans of shutting them out of a hearing held Thursday by the Congressional committee established to look out for their interests.

The House Small Business Committee and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee co-hosted the hearing to address a proposed executive order that would require potential federal contractors to disclose direct and indirect political spending.

Of the seven witnesses, only one — from the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce — represented the small-business community during the hearing, which was titled “Politicizing Procurement: Will President Obama’s Proposal Curb Free Speech and Hurt Small Business?”

“It sounds like small businesses were invited to the party, but reading the witness list it is clear that we are not allowed in,” Frank Knapp, the head of the 5,000-member South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, said during a conference call with reporters Thursday morning. “Small businesses are used to having our name used as a faux for the big businesses’ agenda.”

Knapp and other small-business leaders have criticized the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is fiercely lobbying against the proposed executive order, for claiming the banner of small businesses while working in favor of its major dues-paying members that dominate the contracting market.

Republicans called the hearing after news that the Obama administration was preparing to issue an executive order that would require all companies seeking federal contracts to reveal political contributions of more than $5,000. That would include contributions to outside groups that aren’t required to disclose their donors, like the chamber.

Republicans and other opponents of the executive order, which is still in draft form, argue that it would politicize the process for awarding federal contracts and would deter companies from bidding.

“The risk that politics could play a role in the outcome of procurement is too high,” Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said. “We will always have some contracts awarded on a no-bid basis that could be decided on the whim of a political appointee based on the public record.”

Supporters of the order argue that more transparency will increase competition and allow small businesses greater access to coveted contracts.

Lawrie Hollingsworth, president of Asset Recovery Technologies Inc. of Annapolis, testified on behalf of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, which has made increasing women’s access to federal contracts its primary legislative goal. Hollingsworth and Daniel Gordon, who oversees federal procurement policy at the Office of Management and Budget, were the only witnesses to speak Thursday in favor of increased transparency. Gordon refused to specifically speak about the draft executive order because White House deliberations are ongoing.

As the majority party in the House, Republicans control the witness list for hearings. Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Elijah Cummings (Md.) and other House Democrats said they were denied additional witnesses, but Small Business Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) said Republicans did invite small-business leaders to the hearing.

“We asked a lot of small businesses to come in and testify today, and they didn’t because they are afraid of retribution from this administration,” he said at the hearing.

But small-business leaders told Roll Call in an interview after the conference call that they were ready to testify.

“Chairman Graves must be asking the wrong businesses then. I’m a small-business owner and government contractor, and I would have loved to have the opportunity to testify at that hearing,” said Henry Passapera, a former Lockheed Martin Corp. employee who in 1973 founded P&R Trading, a New Jersey-based transportation equipment supplier.

Passapera said he wanted to know how many small businesses the committee contacted.

Republicans “just couldn’t find anyone to support their position,” Knapp said. “We had 10 small-business folks lined up ready to go to Washington. They weren’t afraid of retribution from the House majority, so why would they be afraid of retribution from the administration?”

In the conference call, sponsored by the Main Street Alliance and other small-business organizations, business leaders said that requiring disclosure would allow them to compete against players who throw their weight around with political contributions.

Passapera and the other small-business leaders on the call noted that companies such as Lockheed Martin, a defense firm and one of the largest federal contractors, and Hallmark, which supplies packaging for the U.S. Postal Service, make hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of political contributions annually to candidates.

“To have the opportunity to complete on a level playing field for a government contract — that’s all we ask for,” he said.

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