BUSINESS MANAGEMENT: RegFair Aimed at Reducing Red Tape

Fewer hassles for small businesses that are besieged by federal regulations? Yes, if Peter W. Barca has his way.

As the National Ombudsman, Barca manages RegFair, a new federal program charged with getting government agencies that regulate small businesses to adopt enforcement practices that encourage compliance and minimize confusion and red tape.

The Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996 gives new rights to small firms that want a say in how federal regulators enforce the law. Among other things, the law created the Office of the National Ombudsman and regional Regulatory Fairness Boards to help improve the climate for small businesses. Consequently, Barca's job is to listen to comments, complaints and, of course, compliments about specific federal regulatory enforcement actions and practices.

"We are looking for the 'best practices' - where regulatory enforcement is being done well - and we are looking for 'worst cases' - where enforcement is causing undue harm," Barca says.

RegFair isn't meant to provide small businesses with a way to avoid compliance with federal laws and regulations, nor will it force regulators to stop doing their job. "We're trying to foster the development of new approaches to enforcement that are more likely to result in full compliance and less likely to cause economic harm," he says.

The National Ombudsman and the Fairness Boards will receive comments about federal compliance and enforcement activities from small businesses, and report these findings to Congress every year.

The report will give each agency a "customer satisfaction rating" by evaluating the enforcement activities of regulatory agency personnel and by rating the regional and program offices' responsiveness to small business.

Other key aspects of the 1996 law include expanded authority for small business to win reimbursement of attorney's fees and costs when a court finds that an agency has been excessive in its enforcement of federal regulations.

For information, call RegFair toll-free: (800) REG-FAIR or (800) 734-3247. Small businesses also can download forms to express their concerns about regulatory enforcement from RegFair's website: