By Mary E. Thyfault

The Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee Wednesday called for an ombudsman in the Small Business Administration to help small and minority businesses gain more federal contracts. The bill (S. 2753) would establish an ombudsman in the SBA's Office of Advocacy. It also raises the statutory goal for federal contracts awarded to minority and women-owned businesses. The measure passed on an 18-0 roll call that included several other bills. The committee has been struggling with ways to help small and minority businesses win more federal contracting dollars. "The federal government is not keeping the faith with America's small business," Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., said when he introduced the bill last week. "The administration is allowing bureaucratic excuses to shortchange millions of small business owners." Originally, Kerry wanted to set up a separate office at SBA for the Small Disadvantaged Business Ombudsman. But Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo, ranking minority member, said he feared the new office would not be funded. The committee agreed by voice vote to place the ombudsman in SBA's Office of Advocacy. The ombudsman would be responsible for ensuring that small businesses are treated fairly in the procurement process. That includes tracking and rectifying complaints received from small businesses regarding federal contracts. The bill also raises the federal procurement goal for small businesses from the current 23 percent per year to 30 percent by 2006.