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The Small Business Administration's National Ombudsman

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The Small Business Administration's National Ombudsman

Published: November 23, 2010 Updated: April 15, 2011

Small businesses are crucial to our natio;s economic recovery and essential to a strong economy. Recognizing a small business owne-s energy is best spent creating jobs and fostering consumer spending, Congress passed the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996 (SBREFA) to create a more cooperative regulatory environment between agencies and small businesses. To ensure the voice of small business owners is heard, the SBREFA created the Office of the National Ombudsman (ONO) within the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).


Learn more about the SBA ombudsman and how they can help protect and serve as an advocate for small businesses.


What is an SBA ombudsman?


The SBREFA created the Office of the National Ombudsman (ONO) to ensure small businesses would have a place to address Federal compliance and regulatory enforcement issues. The National Ombudsman's primary mission is to assist small businesses when they experience excessive or unfair Federal regulatory enforcement actions, such as repetitive audits or investigations, excessive fines, penalties, threats, retaliation or other unfair enforcement action by a Federal agency. All can quickly undermine a new or struggling entrepreneur.


SBREFA also requires that the Office of the National Ombudsman files an annual report with Congress rating Federal regulatory agencies on how well they addressed small business enforcement concerns. Among other criteria, agencies are judged on their timeliness in responding to small business comments, the quality of their response, and their policy for notifying small businesses of regulatory violations.


More information on the rating criteria used for Federal agencies can be found here.


How does the SBA ombudsman help small businesses?


When there is a dispute between a small business owner and a Federal agency, the SBA ombudsman serves as an ambassador to the U.S. government on behalf of small business by helping both parties reach a mutual understanding and resolution. The SBA ombudsman provides a variety of channels through which companies can file a comment or complaint describing their concerns. To begin the process of filing your complaint with the ONO:



  • Small business can use the Federal Agency Comment Form to submit comments on Federal enforcement and compliance actions that they consider excessive or unfair. Print and fill-out this comment form and fax or mail it to the number or address listed on the top of the page. Once completed, the National Ombudsman will use the form to contact the Federal agency for a review of the action.



For help locating your stat-s Small Business Regulatory Fairness Boards you can also look at this map for a listing of board members.


Some of the duties carried out by the ONO and the Small Business Regulatory Fairness Boards include:


  • Conducting hearings in each of the regions to provide small businesses with public forums where they can voice their comments about Federal regulatory and compliance enforcement actions without fear of retaliation


  • Working with Federal agencies that have regulatory authority over small businesses by encouraging them pay attention to entrepreneur' comments about enforcement activities and address those concerns promptly


  • Establishing a process for the ONO to receive comments from small businesses about unfair Federal compliance or enforcement activities


  • Filing an annual report with Congress and effected Federal agencies in which the ONO rates Federal agencies based on substantiated comments received from small businesses and input from the Boards


  • Providing affected agencies with an opportunity to comment on the draft version of the annual report to Congress


What happens after I file my complaint?


Typically the SBA ombudsman forwards complaints and comments received from small businesses to the appropriate agency for a high level review, to re-consider the fairness of the agenc's original enforcement action.


A copy of the agency's response is sent to the small business owner by the Office of the National Ombudsman. In some cases, fines have been lowered or eliminated and decisions changed in favor of the small business owner.


The Office of the National Ombudsman also refers these comments to the Inspector General of the appropriate agency. Upon request, the ONO will maintain the anonymity of the person or small business filing the complaint or comment.


How long does it take for a response?


The ONO website says the office aims to secure a response from the Federal agency within 30 days from the time they receive your completed comment form and substantiating documentation. Generally, you should receive a response within no more than 60 days.


Can any small business file a complaint?


The following questions are provided on the ONO website to help you determine whether your inquiry falls within the jurisdiction of the Small Business Administration's Office of the National Ombudsman:


  • Are you a small-business owner, small government entity, or a non-profit organization?
  • Is your comment about a Federal government agency?
  • Have you been unfairly fined or penalized by a Federal government agency, or is a Federal agency enforcement action imminent?


        The Office of the National Ombudsman contact information:


        Toll Free Phone: (888) REG-FAIR (734-3247)

        Fax: (202) 481-5719

        Email: ombudsman@sba.gov


        Office of the National Ombudsman
        U.S. Small Business Administration
        409 3rd Street, SW, MC2120
        Washington, DC 20416-0005


        Additional Resources:


        Office of National Ombudsman Frequently Asked Questions

        About the Author:

        Sarah Millican
        I'm a digital strategy consultant with ENC Strategy (www.encstrategy.com) and work full-time to support the Small Business Administration in growing and developing this online community to the best that it can be.


        So basically we can now complain that rules and regulations aren't in our favor? I'm skeptical of how serious the govt is in allowing this. Eric Smith ---This post was edited to remove a commercial link. Read our discussion policies for more Community best practices.

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