Finkenauer Leads Oversight of Small Business Administration’s Rural Office

December 3, 2019
Press Release
Sends bipartisan letter requesting answers on how the Office will serve rural America

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer (IA-01), Chairwoman of the House Small Business Rural Development, Agriculture, Trade, and Entrepreneurship (RATE) Subcommittee, led an oversight effort focused on the Office of Rural Affairs at the Small Business Administration (SBA). The letter asks the Office’s new director, Michelle Christian, how she plans to ensure the Office is established properly and how it will serve rural entrepreneurs, especially those in our agricultural communities.

Finkenauer was joined on the letter by Rep. T.J. Cox (D-CA-21) and RATE Subcommittee members Reps. Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-AS-AL) and Angie Craig (D-MN-02).

“We are glad that the Small Business Administration has chosen a director to lead its Office of Rural Affairs. However, we still have outstanding questions about the Office’s mission and operations,” Finkenauer and the members wrote, “The Office of Rural Affairs is needed now more than ever, and we want to know that the Office will serve these agricultural operations and businesses.

The purpose of Finkenauer’s letter is to:

  • Find out why the SBA decided to appoint a director to the Office of Rural Affairs despite the Office not being fully established for more than 25 years
  • Find out what the strategic plan for the Office looks like, requesting information on the Office’s size, scope, and budget
  • Find out how the office will serve farmers and rural small business that face a wide range of challenges
  • Find out how Congress can ensure a strong partnership with the Office to serve rural America

Congresswoman Finkenauer has pushed for answers on the SBA’s Office of Rural Affairs since May 2019. Only recently, Finkenauer’s office discovered the SBA appointed Christian to direct the Office, but the SBA has failed to communicate about the Office’s operations and services.  

The letter requests a response from Director Christian within 60 days.

Background

The Office of Rural Affairs was authorized in the Small Business Act in 1990 to help the SBA effectively serve farmers and rural small businesses. Public record shows the Office of Rural Affairs was briefly initiated in the early 1990s but never fully established. For over 25 years, despite clear legislative intent, the Small Business Administration has not implemented the law and fully established the Office.

Congresswoman Finkenauer has helped lead concerned members of Congress in learning more about the history of the Office of Rural Affairs, why it was disbanded, and how it will be reestablished to best serve rural America.

Timeline

  • In May 2019, Congresswoman Finkenauer co-led H.R. 2633 with Reps. Cox (D-CA) and Radewagen (R-AS) requiring the SBA to submit a report on when and why the Office of Rural Affairs was disbanded and the costs and potential benefits of reestablishing the Office.
  • In July 2019, Congresswoman Finkenauer joined 16 colleagues in a bipartisan request for information about the history of the Office from the SBA’s Acting Administrator Chris Pilkerton. The letter never received a response.
  • In August 2019, the SBA chose a director to lead its Office of Rural Affairs. However, many questions remained unanswered about the Office’s history, mission, and operations.
  • On November 14, 2019, Congresswoman Finkenauer held a Small Business Rural Agriculture, Trade, and Entrepreneurship (RATE) Subcommittee oversight hearing. She invited Michelle Christian, the new director of the Office of Rural Affairs, to testify about what was happening at the office prior to her appointment and what the office is doing now to serve rural small businesses. Many questions about the Office’s history and strategic planning, however, remain unanswered.