|1:40 PM EDT||
John Tierney, D-MA 6th
Mr. TIERNEY. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the gentleman from California (Mr. Ose), the chairman of the subcommittee, and the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee for their willingness to negotiate the amendments to H.R. 327 that we are considering today.
H.R. 327 is a substantial improvement over the small business paperwork bills that were considered by the House in the last two Congresses.
The controversial penalty provisions have been removed, and the bill includes provisions suggested by the Democratic minority that will reduce the paperwork burden on small businesses.
Mr. Speaker, small businesses are the backbone of the economy and are where the new jobs are being created. However, many small and family-opened businesses spend a great deal of their resources learning about and complying with applicable laws.
I am pleased that we are looking at ways to make it easier for small businesses to understand what information they are required to provide to the government and ways to simplify and streamline the paperwork process.
H.R. 327, as amended, requires OMB to annually produce a list of compliance assistance resources available to small businesses. This list must be printed in the Federal Register and posted on the Internet. This bill also requires each agency to establish one point of contact to act as a liaison with small businesses.
H.R. 327 requires agencies to make efforts to further reduce paperwork required of businesses with fewer than 25 employees.
The bill establishes a task force to make recommendations for electronic reporting and improving information dissemination. And H.R. 327 requires agencies to report on the number of enforcement actions they take and the number of instances when they reduce and waive penalties.
Mr. Speaker, 4 years ago we considered similar provisions when the House considered H.R. 3310. Unfortunately, H.R. 3310 also contained provisions that would have prohibited agencies from penalizing businesses for most [Page: H3627]
first-time information-related violations. These provisions would have removed agency discretion and created a safe haven for willful, substantial, and long-standing violations. They were strongly opposed by the Clinton administration,
labor, environmental, consumer, senior citizen, health, trade, and firefighter groups, as well as by some State attorneys general.
The gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Kucinich) and I offered an amendment to address these concerns. However, the amendment failed.
Because of the surrounding controversy, the bill was never considered in the Senate and we lost the chance to implement the provisions we are considering today. The bill was resurrected in the next Congress as H.R. 391. The Kucinich amendment, which fixed the controversial provisions, narrowly failed by a vote of 214-210. Again, because the controversial provisions remained in the bill, it never became law.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to see that H.R. 327 does not include the controversial penalty provisions, and it will likely become law. I am pleased to say that this version of H.R. 327 includes suggestions made by the Democratic minority of the Committee on Government Reform. For instance, the focus of the bill is on compliance assistance. The bill helps businesses figure out what information they need to provide to which agencies and makes it easier for them to provide the information.
Furthermore, the task force will make recommendations for implementing interactive systems for information collection requirements and electronic reporting. This will allow small businesses to identify applicable requirements over the Internet and get immediate feedback on electronic submissions in order to help ensure that they submit consistent and usable data.
Moreover, the task force will recommend ways to strengthen information dissemination so that agencies can more efficiently share the information they gather with other agencies and the public.
In addition, the original bill required agencies to provide an annual list of paperwork requirements by statistical code. However, this list likely would not be used by small businesses, and it would merely provide a statistical analysis of the quantity of information regulations.
Mr. Speaker, the purpose of this bill is not to count regulations, but to help small businesses understand and comply with the information collection requirements. The bill directs a task force to study the feasibility of such a list and whether such a list would actually benefit small businesses. And the bill requires a useful annual list of compliance assistance resources. While I understand, Mr. Speaker, that there will be a colloquy between the chairman of the Committee on Small Business
and the gentleman from California (Mr. Ose), that information that is shared with us is, of course, their opinion and is not part of the legislative history.
H.R. 327 includes a provision suggested by the gentleman from Vermont (Mr. Sanders) and adopted 4 years ago that focuses paperwork reduction on small businesses with fewer than 25 employees. This amendment helps direct our efforts to truly small businesses that need our help the most. The definition of small businesses that was incorporated into H.R. 327 originally was so broad that it included numerous businesses that many do not consider small. It included petroleum refineries with
up to 1,500 employees, pharmaceutical companies with up to 750 employees, and banks with up to $100 million in assets. Thus, the bill helps most businesses, not just small businesses. Therefore, I believe it is appropriate to focus agency efforts on businesses that really are small.
Mr. Speaker, information collection is one of the most important jobs of the Federal Government. It allows the government to enforce the law without burdening businesses with in-depth site investigations. Nevertheless, it is difficult for small businesses to fully understand what is required of them. And many businesses have expressed frustration with the fact that they have provided similar information to more than one source in government.
I believe the government should help small businesses understand their responsibilities and streamline the information collection process. This bill serves both purposes without jeopardizing the underlying protections. Furthermore, it should help us take advantage of the information age by using the Internet to gather and disseminate information. These changes have been suggested by numerous sources, including the General Accounting Office.
I urge my colleagues to support this motion.
Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.