Administration unveils two new tools to spur job creation

Continuing its push to spur the economy while its jobs plan is stalled in Congress, the Obama administration on Friday issued presidential memoranda to create a one-stop portal to help businesses access federal services and to encourage entrepreneurial startups by accelerating the movement of federal lab research to the commercial marketplace.

"With too many families struggling and too many businesses fighting to keep their doors open, we can't wait for Congress to take action," President Obama said in a statement. "Today, I am directing my administration to take two important steps to help American businesses create new products, compete in a global economy and create jobs here at home."

A portal to be called BusinessUSA.gov is set to go live in 90 days to help firms seeking to boost exports "with tools and information for markets and opportunities for the full range of services rather than them having to navigate the federal government one agency at a time," Small Business Administration chief Karen Mills told reporters in a conference call.

"We hear from businesses who say, wouldn't it be great if the government had a program that did this or that. Well, it often turns out we do," she said. Hence the portal is intended to spread the word through a "no wrong door" approach, designed with input from the private sector and online community specialists, and providing multiple paths for inquiries whether through an agency Web page, office or call center. "Businesses face big challenges," Mills said, "and time is their most precious resource."

The lab-to-marketplace initiative, set for rollout in 180 days, consists of three main steps for agencies to foment the transfer of scientific and engineering breakthroughs to market. Agencies are directed to:

  • Streamline and cut in half the processing time for private-public research partnerships, small business research and development grants, and university-startup collaborations;
  • Apply greater flexibility in partnering with industry, creating partnerships with local communities, supporting the growth of regional innovation clusters and sharing lab facilities with local businesses;
  • Develop a five-year plan with concrete goals and metrics to measure progress, including tracking the patents each lab generates.

"The United States has long laid the foundation for innovations in industry, but now other countries are challenging us for world leadership," acting Deputy Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank said. With the government spending $147 billion a year on research and development, "the stakes are too high and too serious to be playing political games," she added.

White House Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel told reporters the timing of the two presidential memoranda reflected the recent feedback provided to the administration from its Jobs Council, and that the business portal is the "next logical step" in reorganizing the government from the "outside-looking-in perspective."

He dismissed suggestions that the new site is duplicative, saying its goal is "to centralize resources rather than require double effort" by government or business. A businessperson who visits, for example, a federal website focusing on exports, he added, can quickly move to information on taxes or grants. "The long-term goal is a data-driven strategy so that we can see what users are saying and do some consolidating," he said.

At least one House Republican leader appeared unimpressed.

"The best thing the president can do to help business is to simply encourage the Democrat Senate to take up the 16 jobs bills that the House has passed and end private sector uncertainty by halting burdensome regulations and putting an end to any threat of tax increases," House Small Business Committee Chairman Sam Graves, R-Mo., told Government Executive. "We can't wait for the president to realize that his policies over the last three years have hurt business, not helped."

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