Tuesday, April 24, 2012

With Favoritism and Special Treatment for All

Small business needs equal access – not special treatment.

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I run a small business and look for every advantage to bring in new work. Last week I was at a breakfast meeting that included a presentation by the Army's Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization. The presenter talked about all the different types of contracting set asides, that is, government opportunities that are only open to businesses that fit a particular category including:
  • Small Business
  • Small Disadvantaged Business
  • Women-Owned Small Business
  • Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business
  • HUBZone Small Business
  • Veteran-Owned Small Business
  • Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business
  • Alaska Native Corporation or Indian Tribe
  • Historically Black College or University
  • Ability One (employees significant disabilities)
An attendee at my table mentioned a pilot program to set aside more contracts for "mid-tier" firms that have grown too large to be considered "small". Really?

As I said, I look for every advantage to grow our business and I'd be a fool not to take advantage of any special set-aside opportunities available to my firm. But I'm a little offended that the government thinks small businesses need continuous and never-ending coddling.

Small business needs equal access – not special treatment. I am proud that our business is nimble and can make quick decisions to satisfy a client's need. I'm also proud that we're very lean and keep our overhead costs low so that we offer great value. But I get steamed when the government sets the rules and costs for participation so high that small businesses can't qualify or afford to compete against big businesses. I ask for equal footing and standing – nothing more.

In Animal Farm, George Orwell wrote: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." Columnist Robert Samuelson quipped: "No one wants to take away; it’s more fun to give." But the more we give and the more special treatment we mete out, the more special interests become entrenched and the less equal it is for everyone. As markets become more fragmented, they become less competitive and the cost of government goes up – giving taxpayers less and less for their tax dollars.
So let's reorganize government to make it lean and more compact, reducing overhead costs and making it less receptive to uncompetitive contracting. Let's ensure fair and equal footing for government contractors, eliminating barriers that protect inequitable preferences. Let's restrain our elected officials from picking economic winners and losers, allowing consumers to choose the products and services that best suit their needs and wants.

Yes, everyone is special. We all have talents to contribute to the growth of our economy. But no one deserves special treatment. Fair and equal treatment for all is a pillar of democracy. Let's knock down barriers, not erect new ones.