These users from big and small businesses around the country worked with the product and told us what to change. They loved the idea of one electronic stop, but wanted to change just about everything else. So we did. A central theme in their thinking was that government is drowning them in information -- they said "make it easy to find what we need and then let us do business." They wanted the ability to make transactions, such as applying for permits, or to find out how to solve problems, like getting rid of a health hazard.
The new Advisor, released this past spring, lets business search 106,000 federal World Wide Web addresses for information by typing in simple English queries, like "show me the regulations for cutting Christmas trees on federal lands." The President typed that in, and the Advisor answered. Results are returned in seconds, with a key passage highlighted.
The Advisor provides several ways to quickly reach agency home pages that are critical to business. The SBA's home page is often mentioned as one of the Web's most popular and is always adding new, "cool" stuff. Responding to business's requests for on-line transactions, SBA just put their fast-track loan applications on-line to be filled out and submitted without paper. Another Advisor link takes business to the OSHA home page. Employers can get "how to" advice there. Do you think you need to get rid of asbestos in your building? OSHA has an expert system that helps you decide if you have a problem and what to do about it. Similar electronic tools address cadmium, lead, and the hazards of work in confined spaces.
The Advisor is a modern, state-of-the-art, electronic one-stop shop. There are some shops made out of good old bricks and mortar, too. Houston's U.S. General Store for Small Business dispenses nearly any service or information that a small business owner needs from the federal government in one place with local government there, too. So far, the General Store has had about 4,000 customers. An independent survey says they love it. One customer, Roy Owens, got help with a loan, tax advice, and even contract leads with the Post Office. Roy says he has more work than he can handle, and he'll "go anywhere, any time to tell anybody that the store is the best thing he's ever seen from government." Business owners can get the same kind of one-stop service at the U.S. General Stores and SBA's "one-stop capital shops" in Atlanta, Kansas City, Philadelphia, and Boston.
EPA is making it easier for businesses to comply with environmental regulations. EPA has funded Small Business Compliance Assistance Centers for the metal finishing, printing, automotive repair, and farming industries to help these small businesses identify -- in plain English -- low-cost compliance and pollution prevention strategies. EPA also waives or reduces penalties for first-time violators if the business corrects the problem or comes into compliance with the law. And to top it all off, EPA is simplifying more than 70 percent of its regulations on business and eliminating 1,400 pages of obsolete rules.
There are also 88 U.S. Export Assistance Centers where companies that want to sell goods overseas can receive the collective assistance of staff from Commerce, the Small Business Administration, the Export-Import Bank, and state and local agencies. These centers and the 1-800-USA-TRADE number place all government export assistance resources at anybody's fingertips.
The Treasury, Labor Department, and Social Security Administration have teamed up with state and local governments and private organizations to reduce the paperwork burden of reporting and depositing payroll taxes by the nation's 6.2 million employers. Reports will only have to be filed with one agency, which will distribute the information to all federal, state, and local agencies that need it. This goes for withholding and reporting income tax, social security, unemployment insurance, and Medicare information. There is even an electronic version in the works that will be on the Internet. Federal tax deposits are now being made electronically too. The law says 1,500 big businesses must deposit payroll taxes electronically, but IRS made it so easy that 64,000 more companies do it voluntarily.
The biggest assistance that many small businesses need in order to get off the ground, or to expand, is a loan. The SBA has cut way, way back on the amount of paperwork and time it takes small entrepreneurs to obtain the backing they need. SBA has also boosted the amount of private capital available. The results speak for themselves: SBA arranged 55,000 small business loans last year, more than twice the number for 1992, for a total of $7.8 billion -- a real shot in the arm for small business and the economy.