An advocate for the underdog is what small businesses can expect if Linda McMahon is confirmed as the Small Business Administration’s new leader.
McMahon is President Donald Trump’s pick for SBA administrator, and she is perhaps most famous as a founder and CEO for the WWE — her daughter and son-in-law, both professional wrestlers, sat in the audience behind her at her Jan. 24 confirmation hearing
During her appearance before the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, McMahon pledged her support to level the playing field for women, service-disabled veterans and minority small business owners looking to contract with the federal government.
Asked by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) about how she planned to work with federal agencies to increase small business opportunities for contracts, McMahon said her first step would be to understand the projects themselves, then find the best fit and helping hand for a particular business.
“I think that in terms of the prime contracts and the subcontracts, we need to make sure that we’ve got that adequate representation for that growth,” McMahon said. “And so I would want to make sure that our businesses have the right outreach, the right advocates in those markets. That’s what I would focus on, is trying to make sure we have those right advocates.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) brought up the practice of bundling at large agencies that he said don’t want to evaluate any more contracts than they have to. The practice makes it “virtually impossible” for small businesses to be the prime contractor, Cardin said, and then asked what McMahon would do to address that.
“I’d really like to peel back some of that bundling and take a look at it, so that we have the opportunity for our small businesses to really have that fair shot,” McMahon said. “They shouldn’t just continue to get squeezed out, and I would want to be their advocate. I’d want to hear from them, I’d want to find out how did this happen, how can we get around this, who do we need to speak to, how can I advocate more strongly on your behalf.”
In response to Sen. Tammy Duckworth’s (D-Ill.) question on what her goals were if confirmed, McMahon said she wanted to look at mentorship for entrepreneurs, growing and creating jobs, and in particular look at disaster relief programs, because when “small businesses are put out of business for a while, our economy suffers.”
Duckworth also asked McMahon what could be done to address the “jargon-filled, clunky and complex federal websites” that might work for large corporations who have the staff to translate them, but confuse small businesses who don’t even know where to start on a page.
“As someone who herself is technologically challenged, I certainly understand the frustration of many small business owners who are trying to break through the morass of looking at confusing websites,” McMahon said. “I think it is very important that we make our tools the simplest and most direct way they can be, so they’re easy to use.”
Shaheen also asked McMahon how she would maximize opportunities for SBA’s resource partners, such as the Small Business Development Center, the Women’s Business Center, SCORE Business Mentors and Veterans Business Outreach Center.
“I’ve been very forthcoming in wanting women entrepreneurship to grow, and continue to support that,” McMahon said. “It’s very near and dear to my heart. I will continue that outreach with all of our different organizations, and continue to mentor through the women’s centers as well.”
McMahon also referred back to her former company, WWE, which she left when she ran for office, as a business that was always concerned about veterans, returning veterans and how to get them jobs.
Defending the little guy
McMahon said if confirmed she would also make it a point to delve into the Office of Advocacy, an independent body within SBA, charged with helping guide small businesses through agency policies, and making sure their voice is heard.
McMahon said she’s heard the office needs some teeth when it comes to telling agencies they’re not in compliance with a particular rule, but currently there’s not enough bite.
“I’ve always been a defender of the little guy,” McMahon said. “We need someone who’s going to go to bat for our small businesses, and I’m just the girl to do that.”
McMahon also clarified her stance on comments from a past political campaign she ran in Connecticut, in which she said she supported the merging of SBA into the Commerce Department.
McMahon said at the time, she was a strong advocate for reducing duplicative programs, as part of her campaign included talk about the Government Accountability Office’s list of redundant programs. Former President Barack Obama had also indicated at the time he was looking into merging some agencies, so when she was asked about that topic, she had said she would support the merging of SBA and Commerce.
“I really wasn’t focused on SBA or Commerce, I was focused on the concept of merging agencies or reducing duplicative programs so that we could reduce those costs,” McMahon said. “I am a firm believer that SBA needs to be a standalone agency.”
Putting political grudges to rest
McMahon’s hearing was relatively smooth sailing compared to some of her fellow nominees.
The hearing was less than two hours, with only one round of questions. Committee Chairman James Risch (R-Idaho) said the hope was to have her back for a committee vote next week, and McMahon was even introduced to the committee by former Senate race rivals, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).
“Politics can’t work if political grudges never die. Political adversaries have to find a way to work together after the fight is over,” Murphy said. “I’m here today to support Linda not because we’ve magically become of one mind on how we approach every problem this country faces, but because I have confidence she is going to give good, sound counsel to President Trump when it comes to policy affecting small business.”