Transparency will empower the small business community

Spring is on the horizon, and along with the weather, the action in Springfield will be heating up.

Policymakers will be wading through thousands of bills, holding hearings and attempting to pass legislation. The SBAC has a robust agenda that includes bills to support small businesses struggling to hire employees, stabilize the costs of health insurance and revitalize neighborhood business districts. We will be reviewing and monitoring other legislation, keeping an eye on bills that will impact the small business community.

Transparency also will be a central theme of our efforts this session, including as it relates to government contracts. Illinois awards government contracts to companies that perform a robust number of services for the state. These contracts are funded by taxpayer dollars and have a fiscal impact on our economy.

Small businesses often lack the insight, knowledge and staff to search through and apply for government contracts. It is imperative that efforts are made to ensure small businesses have a chance to access and procure these contracts.

There are presently goals set by the state to level the playing field with respect to government contracts. Small businesses should receive a minimum of 10% of state contracts. Minority- and women-owned businesses should each receive 16% of government contracts. However, it is extremely difficult to determine whether agencies are meeting these goals.

House Bill 2368 will help small business owners and advocates better assess whether government agencies are meeting the goals set forth above. The legislation will require the public disclosure of important information and data on the issuance of government contracts. In the event agencies are not hitting their goals, advocates for small, minority-owned and women-owned businesses can work with policymakers to make it happen. This all starts with transparent and accurate information being available to the public.

Another important bill related to government contracting will require the chief procurement officers of state agencies that reject four consecutive bids from a small business to explain the reasons in writing. This transparency will provide guidance to small businesses struggling to procure government contracts so they can remedy the issues hindering their efforts.

Transparency is crucial at all levels of government because it results in better policies, improves the confidence people have in their politicians and deters corruption. Transparency increases political accountability because the public can assess whether policies are being implemented in a fair and effective manner. It can also pull back the curtain, so the public can discern the interests behind certain policies and whether stakeholders are unfairly benefiting from government action.

Transparency should also be coupled with public feedback. Together, these serve as a potent combination when it comes to enacting good public policy and fostering the growth of our economy. Politicians should increase ways that small business owners and advocates can share their insight, experience and recommendations.

Transparency is a crucial aspect of good government. The SBAC will continue advocating for legislation that enhances transparency because it will increase the small business communities' confidence in policymakers while providing data which can be used to move good public policy.

• Elliot Richardson is co-founder and president of the Small Business Advocacy Council.

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