At the request of U.S. Senators Mark Begich and Daniel Inouye, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee today held a hearing to highlight the successes of the SBA 8(a) Business Development Program. Entitled Promise Fulfilled - the Role of the 8(a) Program in Enhancing Economic Development in Indian Country, the purpose of the hearing was to highlight the positive impacts of Alaska Native Corporations (ANC), Native Hawaiian Organizations, and Indian tribal entity participation in the program.
Three panels of witnesses testified, including Julie Kitka, President of the Alaska Federation of Natives, and representatives of the Small Business Administration.
"Today is a chance to shed the full light on the success of the 8(a) program and the advances in employment and self sufficiency they have supported," Sen. Begich said. "We have come a long way in the lives of Alaska Native People."
Sen. Begich pointed out although there have been major advancements for Alaska Natives in the last several decades, steep obstacles remain including gas costing upwards of $10 per gallon in many rural areas; 46 communities across the state still relying on "honeybuckets"; one-third of rural communities still haul water from a community source; and 20 percent of Alaska Natives continue to live in poverty.
Begich emphasized many of the companies involved in the 8(a) program play an important role as taxpaying businesses, creating jobs and boosting local economies.
"This is not an entitlement. It's not a hand out. It's a step to help create opportunity," Begich said.
"When the Native 8(a) program was first started, the goal was to provide an economic development tool to provide economic self-sufficiency for Native communities. The intent was a "helping hand" and not a "handout" via social welfare programs. This program has demonstrated success, and as a result, it has become a target," said Sen. Inouye. "In Hawaii, we have established Native Hawaiian Organizations (NHO). Native Hawaiian Organizations are non-profit organizations, managed by Native Hawaiian individuals and principally serving Native Hawaiians, which have majority ownership by an 8(a) designated for-profit firm. NHO's are the youngest among the Native 8(a) businesses. However, they are making their mark in the Native Hawaiian community in a positive way. They are becoming more competitive in government contracting. As they become profitable, social programs and Native Hawaiians benefit. I truly hope it continues."
Sen. Begich said the SBA should be recognized for its rigorous tribal consultation process to ensure the needs of Native participants in the 8(a) program were recognized and previous loopholes closed. The SBA had a number of tribal consultations and discussions with impacted communities, which helped to shape new regulations designed to better serve both the government and contractors.
In prepared testimony Joe Jordan, SBA Associate Administrator, Government Contracting and Business Development, identified the extensive work done by the agency to have a thorough tribal dialogue and consultation in line with the President's Executive Order on Native Consultation.