Pit bull politics Featured

9:51am EDT July 22, 2002

When Jere Glover strolls the halls of Washington politics, he may seem short, stout and good-’ole-boy charming with his laid-back Southern drawl. But don’t let appearances fool you. Ask him if he minds being called a pit bull in court, and he smiles.

“A pit bull on behalf of small business is a title that is thrown around and used, and the district court has actually referred to me as that,” says an almost sheepish Glover. “I’m not saying I dislike it, but you can’t be meek and be in this job.”

Meek he is not. Glover, 55, didn’t earn the venerable distinction of “Pit Bull” for being a legislative lap dog. Rather, he takes on Congress and federal regulatory agencies daily to make sure lawmakers enact laws and regulations that treat small business fairly.

When they don’t, he has the president of the United States’ authority to bare his teeth and take them to task. And he does.

Glover, a presidential appointee, is the U.S. Small Business Administration’s chief counsel and head of its Office of Advocacy, which serves as the independent voice for small business in any and all legislative matters. For the past five-plus years, Glover and his research staff have fought battles relating to everything from taxes and procurement to regulatory policy — all on behalf of business owners, who likely would have been short-shrifted without him.

In this exclusive One On One interview, Glover, who came to Pittsburgh recently to meet with local business and government leaders, offers his take on the relationship today between government and business and why we should be glad he’s fighting your fight in the thick of Washington politics.

SBN: Why should our readers care about what you do for them in Washington, D.C.?

Glover: What we do is basically represent small business before Congress and before federal agencies. And what we try and do is make sure the decision-makers in Washington make informed decisions.

When the office was created 25 years ago, Congress said, all too often we’re making decisions not knowing they’re going to be hurting small business. And we need information and statistics and analysis up front so that not only we but also federal agencies can make better decisions.

Do they accept the information?

Well, let’s say that in Congress, we have had varying degrees of success. Our track record is far better recently than it was historically. And that’s because we have the power — and small business has the power — to go into court and challenge the agencies, and that judicial review of agency actions is forcing the agencies to take us much more seriously.

In fact, they’re now coming to us saying, “We want to know early what we can do so we don’t end up in court. Before, it was, “We’ve done it; what can we say to make it look OK? What can we paste over this? Is there some magic word, or can we sprinkle some holy water over this so that we can do what we were planning to do anyhow?”

What we try to do, and what the agencies now do because of law changes, is get in early and try to help them to begin thinking about small business when they start their regulatory analysis process. But by time they propose it, it’s too late. They’ve already made up their mind.

Did you have to become an adversary of sorts to become an advocate of small business to get lawmakers to take you seriously?

Sure. Until I filed my first amicus brief, nobody thought we were a player. The first brief involved the Department of Interior. They were trying to regulate hard-rock mining. They had a carefully laid out scheme or strategy — strategy is probably the right word — to regulate all mining operations.

But what they forgot to consider was that if you expect 3M mining operations to do something and have an engineer evaluate it and an independent engineer certify what the compliance cost would be, that may be possible. Then you get a bond based on what that assessment is.

On the other hand, if you’ve got somebody with five acres in the middle of nowhere who is basically doing this with two or three employees, and you have that same requirement where you have your engineer do an analysis and get an independent analysis and then an evaluation as to what it will cost to reclaim the land when the mining is over and done with, the small firms simply couldn’t get the engineers.

And if they could, the engineers would always guess so high because, if it’s a small matter, it isn’t worth anything, where, with the big companies, they’ll say, “Well make our best guess and if we’re off a little bit, it won’t make any difference.”

It’s a long answer, but let me just say is that what we did is we went in to protect the small miners. As a result, the judge bought our reasoning and the rule was thrown out.

Did that really set the tone for what you do now?

Oh yeah. To keep us from filing a brief, there were a lot of meetings to try to talk us out of filing a brief. We said that was all well and good, but we were going to do it. Once we did it, there were three similar cases that we immediately got them to make concessions on for small business because they didn’t want us to file another brief.

Why not?

The courts presume the government agency has expertise in what it’s doing. And when you have two agencies, the presumption goes away. When we file an amicus brief against a government agency, the presumption that the agency is right goes away, so it’s more of a fair fight.

What is a fair presumption at this moment about government agencies?

I think the presumption that government agencies are right is probably still OK. But I think it should be easily rebuttable. What we’ve found in our regulatory work is that the agencies don’t understand small business. Therefore, they don’t factor it in properly in their analysis.

And to a large extent, small businesses don’t come in to talk to them, either. They don’t want to be involved in the process, so [the agencies] they can’t get good information. It’s a chicken and egg situation. In either case, the agency now is going out and being much more aggressive in finding out about small business and working closely with us.

What don’t they understand about small business?

We just worked on a small refinery case. The Environmental Protection Agency thought that $20-$50 million to convert a refinery was a reasonably acceptable number. They didn’t take into consideration that for smaller refineries, that would put them all out of business.

Smaller refineries also play a critical role in keeping competition in the marketplace. So it’s not just that smaller refineries are there, but that they exert down the pressure on oil prices. That competition aspect of it was lost on them. So we explained to them that their estimates of the impact were significantly understated.

Describe yourself in representing small business before Congress and the federal agencies.

First of all, I’m an entrepreneur. I was in the government for a number of years and then went out and started business. I had the unique experience of losing half a million dollars in one of my business ventures before working very hard for three years to turn things around and break even.

For a government official, it’s a unique experience. It’s now a little easier for me to understand what small business people are thinking about.

What I am is an advocate — I believe in small business. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing. It requires a combination of being a pretty good lawyer, to understand what the agencies are trying to do, to being a pretty good economist, to understand the economic factors that go into the decisions, an d enough of an entrepreneur to understand what the impact is going to be on small businesses.

Washington is a town where you do what you say you’re going to do. You tell people you’re going to do it. Right now, the agencies understand that we’re going to back up what we say, that if they don’t listen to us, they’re likely to end up with us, one, trying to block their proposal to the White House.

If we lose at the White House, we’ll go into their regulatory proceedings and try to block it. And if we lose there, we’ll go into the courthouse.

How long do you think you’ll stay with this position?

I think we’re making a difference. The climate of the government is a very hard thing to change, and I think we’ve begun to change that. And I want to finish that process. I’ve got a few more years to go. When it ceases to be exciting, that’s when I’ll go back to running businesses, because that’s exciting and fun.

Daniel Bates (dbates@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN.