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National ombudsman helps small businesses address concerns about federal regulators

Small-business owners turn to Brian Castro when they need help collecting payments from federal contractors, are concerned about excessive fines or think a regulation is too burdensome.

Since August 2013, Castro, a Duke University law school alumnus, has led a little-known program that advocates for small businesses at the federal level. Castro is the national ombudsman and assistant administrator for Regulatory Enforcement Fairness at the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Last fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, the office received 430 formal jurisdictional complaints and thousands of inquires, Castro said.

“We offer an informal avenue, a channel for an expedited resolution,” that is separate and apart but in addition to a company taking their concerns to court, often a long and expensive process, Castro said. “Our services are already paid for with the taxpayers’ dollars and very often are resolved or obtained within 30 to 60 days.”

Castro’s office employs seven and offers four tools to help small-business owners, nonprofit organizations and small governments address concerns about federal rules and regulators.

Annual scorecards that rate about 35 federal regulators that touch small businesses: The ratings, letter grades A to F, are included in an annual report to Congress measuring how business-friendly regulators are to small companies. The scorecard’s measures include timeliness (to get an A a regulator has to respond within 30 days) and the substance of the reply, such as whether it addresses the specific concern versus just a form letter, Castro said.

Individual case resolutions: The office offers a one-page form that anybody can fill out online or send in to initiate a case, Castro said. It authorizes Castro’s office to reach out to the involved federal agency on the owner’s behalf. In some cases, the office can offer confidentiality so that the regulating agency wouldn’t be told who had brought the concern to light, he said. But in cases that involve a fine or a tax lien, confidentiality may not be possible.

Regulatory Fairness Boards: Five-member Regulatory Fairness Boards for each of the 10 SBA regions advise Castro and are another way for small businesses in the region to connect with Castro’s office in Washington D.C. North Carolina is in Region IV.

Regulatory Fairness hearings and roundtables: Last year, the SBA hosted 60 of these public events in 20 states, Castro said. The events provide small-business owners an opportunity to directly comment on unfair enforcement actions, government audits and excessive fines or regulations. Regulatory Fairness Board members participate, along with representatives of trade associations, chambers of commerce and representatives of federal agencies.

Bridges: 919-829-8917;

Twitter: @virginiabridges

Learn more

Find out more about the SBA ombudsman at sba.gov/ombudsman.

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