House panel approves bill to strengthen small business watchdog office

The Small Business Administration's advocacy office would be strengthened under legislation approved by the House Small Business Committee on Wednesday.

The committee approved the bill (H.R. 4231) by a voice vote after little debate. Among other provisions, the legislation calls for establishing a chief counsel in the advocacy office, who would be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The counsel must be appointed from the private sector without regard to political affiliation. Unlike a similar bill (S.395) approved by the Senate last year, the House version requires that the appointee must not have served in the administration for five years prior to the appointment.

The Senate bill's primary sponsor, Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., has argued that the legislation would build a "firewall" to keep political interference out of the Office of Advocacy's operations.

The legislation approved Wednesday authorizes $10 million for the office for FY 2003; $12 million for FY 2004; and $14 million for FY 2005. The bill would also require the research arm of the Office of Advocacy to publish reports on issues and regulations affecting small businesses.

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