Republicans and Democrats both promised one thing above all else this past election cycle: change. Long before Election Day, it was clear a new approach to public policy would be introduced in Washington, D.C., regardless of the victor. Changes at the White House and on Capitol Hill aside, institutional transformation also will occur among the federal agencies responsible for formulating, implementing and enforcing regulatory policy.
In the wake of the global economic crisis, many analysts now believe the nation is headed toward a period of increased federal regulatory activity. This trend already has begun in the financial sector, and a drive to regulate other areas of business may soon follow. Additional regulatory burdens could be just around the corner for the construction industry.
If a wave of new regulation does, in fact, take place, the construction industry must change its approach to the rulemaking process through increased participation. Doing so will ensure all interests of the industry are given fair consideration. Construction trade groups and individual employers—especially small businesses—can successfully influence rulemaking outcomes.
In an unfavorable regulatory environment, it is essential for associations to forge and maintain cooperative relationships with federal agencies. Regular communication and the provision of thoughtful comments and testimony in response to rulemaking proposals can cultivate credibility and result in meaningful, productive relationships with agency staff and decision-makers.
Collegial dialogue is a win-win: It gives employers and their associations a better understanding of an agency’s agenda, while providing opportunities to voice employers’ concerns to regulators. Above all, it is important to be honest brokers, known for providing straightforward recommendations.
Construction owners and executives should take advantage of effective lobbying and political opportunities within the trade groups to which they belong. Member-driven associations are apt at anticipating issues before they become problematic, and equipped to know how upcoming regulations will affect the businesses they represent. An active membership provides firsthand workplace expertise that, in turn, helps associations better convey industry’s concerns to regulators.
Using SBA Tools
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), an independent federal agency, provides opportunities for smaller companies to become directly involved in the regulatory process. The Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996 established review panels to allow small businesses to comment on and suggest revisions to regulations that are too expensive or complicated to successfully implement in the areas of safety, health and environmental protection.
Additionally, the SBA Office of Advocacy exists to “advance the views, concerns and interests of small business” before federal regulatory agencies. The agency oversees the Small Business Regulatory Review & Reform Initiative ("r3" program), in which small businesses can submit regulations found to be “ineffective, duplicative or out of date,” especially in terms of cost and administrative burden.
Smaller companies also can make their voices heard by contacting the SBA National Ombudsman’s Office. The ombudsman oversees 10 regional review boards that gather complaints and comments from small business owners, and works with more than 35 federal regulatory agencies to resolve negative impacts on small businesses. When petitioning these SBA services, it is important to provide them with ample information and to cooperate in any necessary follow-up.
Construction owners and executives know federal regulations affect every aspect of their businesses, from the federal tax code and wage requirements, to safety and health rules. If regulatory activity increases across the board, as many have predicted, the construction industry must be prepared to take a more thoughtful and cooperative approach to the rulemaking process. Industry trade and advocacy groups, as well as individual businesses, must adapt to an environment that could be significantly less sympathetic to business interests than in the past. Helpful Links
- To learn more about nominating a regulation for the SBA Office of Advocacy’s r3 program, visit www.sba.gov/advo/r3/.
- Additional information on contacting the SBA National Ombudsman is available at www.sba.gov/ombudsman.
Editor’s Note: This column went to press before the Nov. 4 elections.