Good morning. And thank you for coming to the first hearing of the second session of the 110th Congress. Welcome.

Last year, we had an aggressive hearing schedule. With 14 hearings, 4 roundtables, and 4 mark-ups, this Committee broke our record for meetings in one year. Thanks to the hard work and active support from my Ranking Member Senator Snowe, this was performed in the bipartisan tradition of this Committee.

I am glad to report that the Committee made significant progress on a number of issues. We reported out six bipartisan Small Business reauthorization bills, and we will continue to work to fully reauthorize these programs, and the Small Business Innovation Research program, which expires on September 30. I am also glad to report that, working with other committees, we provided the first real increase in funding for small business programs, we cut taxes for small firms, we increased transparency in contracting at TSA, we passed legislation to help small firms become more energy efficient, and we expanded research and development opportunities for small firms.

However, there is still much to do. And right now a top focus for us is helping small firms weather tough economic times.

Just last week Senator Snowe and I introduced small business stimulus legislation. We both support proposals to expand small business expensing and net operating loss carryback provisions, providing significant tax incentives for small business. The Finance Committee is marking up the stimulus package this afternoon, and I am pleased to see the inclusion of small business tax provisions that will help spur business investment and free up capital to create jobs and expand our economy. My legislation, cosponsored by Committee Members Senators Levin and Landrieu, will also encourage government-backed lending.

This hearing is about accountability. I want to tie up some loose ends from last year and follow up on promises made by the SBA before this Committee to take action on matters as diverse as energy guidelines, disaster reform, lender oversight and contracting. Today, Administrator Preston is here to report back to the Committee whether they kept those promises.

Unfortunately, the main topic of this hearing is about a promise that was broken--the newly proposed rule for the Women’s Procurement Program. It is beyond inadequate. It is an affront to anyone who believes that women ought to have an equal opportunity to sell their goods and services to the federal government. It took seven years of Congress hitting you over the head – in a bipartisan manner – asking for a rule to implement the program, and this is what you’ve come up with? Out of 140 industries and more than 2,300 contracting categories, you claim that only four are underrepresented by women.

Women-owned firms account for over 30 percent of all firms yet they get only 3.4 percent of all federal contracting dollars, far short of the 5 percent goal. That’s plain unacceptable, and I call on you to go back to the drawing board and put forward a realistic, workable rule this Congress can get behind. I have written a letter to the Administration outlining my objections to this proposed rule in a more formal way. I will make that letter available to the entire Committee and I hope that they will join me in sending a message that this rule is unacceptable.

Today, we’ll also follow up on lender oversight. The BLX $76 million loan scheme showed that SBA’s lender oversight was falling short. With the subprime mortgage problems infecting all aspects of the economy, catching the early warning signs of lender fraud is even more important than when we met a couple of months ago. SBA is responsible for more than $50 billion in 7(a) and 504 loan guarantees and there are some basic changes that would make a difference in protecting taxpayers.

Another on-going part of that issue is the fact that the SBA requested severe redactions to the public version of the IG’s report on SBA’s oversight of BLX. We’ve recently received more reasons for those redactions, but I’m not yet satisfied or convinced they’re all necessary. The public deserves access to as much information as possible, yet the SBA’s general counsel has asserted so many privileges that it’s still unreadable. Congress has its own rules and Constitutional prerogatives that apply as a co-equal branch of government. We don’t believe unnecessary secrecy furthers our shared goals of good governance. I urge you to become more involved in this process so that we can come to an amicable resolution and make the agency’s actions as transparent as possible.

We have several other issues to cover, including rebuilding the Gulf Coast and disaster reform, as well as making sure the SBA is doing more to help small firms become energy efficient. And since the SBA promised to report back this month about implementing the Women’s Business Center renewal grants program, I look forward to hearing the progress there as well.

I thank Administrator Preston for appearing before us here today. I continue to believe that he is working hard to make positive changes at SBA. However, I also believe that more needs to be done to strengthen the agency.

I have spent 23 years serving on this Committee because I understand the importance of small businesses in creating and maintaining a vibrant, growing economy. Especially at a time of economic uncertainty, guarding the welfare of the nation’s small businesses is now more critical than, and I look forward to continuing to work with the members of the Committee and the SBA to address the problems facing our nation’s small businesses.

I thank you all for coming. And I now turn to Senator Snowe.