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Sandy Baruah new head of the US Small Business Administration

President George Bush has nominated Santanu “Sandy” Baruah, 43, to be the new head of the Small Business Administration, the US government agency that provides supports to small businesses (proposed 2009 budget: $659 million) in June this year. When his Senate confirmation ran into bipartisan concerns about the agency, Bush appointed him acting administrator on Aug. 15. The Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 allows him to continue in the post till President Bush leaves.

Baruah, who has been with the Bush administration since 2001, most recently served as head of the Economic Development Administration at the Commerce Department, prior to SBA he was the Assistant Secretary for Economic Development at the Department of Commerce and comes to SBA with a keen understanding in how to promote local business growth, manage organizational change, and respond to federal disasters.

Baruah helped lead significant accomplishments for EDA, including the agency’s induction into the Balanced Scorecard Hall of Fame, passage of EDA’s Congressional reauthorization, the agency’s inclusion in President Bush’s Executive Order, which established the Preserve America Initiative and achieved the second- highest effectiveness ranking from the White House’s Office Management and Budget.

Prior to joining President Bush’s team at the Commerce Department, he spent seven years with a Portland, Oregon-based corporate management consulting firm. As a business consultant, he worked on engagements with clients such as Walt Disney World, Intel, Key Bank and Citizens Bank.

Sandy Baruah’s previous government service includes work with US Senator Bob Packwood and service to President George H.W. Bush, with positions in the office of the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of the Interior. Baruah holds a BS from the University of Oregon and earned an M.B.A. from Willamette University

In July 2008, Fortune Small Business ran a story by Ian Mount asking: “Can Sandy Baruah Save the SBA?” Ivan wrote, “President Bush’s pick to lead the SBA wins praise for his management style but has little small-business experience. With less than a year until a new administration takes over Washington, can Baruah make a dent in the SBA’s myriad problems?”

According to reports, last December, the agency issued a rule narrowly defining the women’s government contracting program, which set off protests on Capitol Hill and among women’s groups. Senator John F. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, accused President Bush last month of circumventing the confirmation process and of undercutting efforts to open government contracting opportunities for women. “This nominee and the administration know that I am vehemently opposed to them moving forward with the unconstitutional women’s procurement rule that makes it harder for women to access federal contracts,” Kerry said.

 Senator Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine, who is the ranking minority member on the committee, tried to extract a pledge from Baruah on the issue at a meeting last month. Ms. Snowe said she “demanded Baruah make a commitment to either withdraw this proposed rule or defer action on this issue until the next administration.” 

Baruah, who was assistant secretary for economic development at the Commerce Department did not make a commitment. Even so, Ms. Snowe this week issued a statement welcoming his designation but urging him to “rectify the administration’s recent failure to implement a meaningful women’s contracting rule.” Although little known in the small-business community, Baruah spent more than two years at the Economic Development Administration, which gives development grants to communities that have suffered job losses for reasons like the movement of manufacturing overseas. Before joining the Bush administration, he worked for seven years as a senior consultant at the Performance Consulting Group in Portland, Ore., which had some big-name clients like Walt Disney and Intel. The firm closed in 2000.

Several small-business groups said it was beneficial to have an administration-selected agency head because the hurricane season was beginning, and a firm hand was needed to oversee the agency’s disaster loan program.

The American Small Business League, which has locked horns with the Small Business Administration over the awards of smallbusiness contracts to large corporations, has been critical. Its president, Lloyd Chapman, has publicly worried that Baruah’s goal is to either eliminate the Small Business Administration or fold it into the Commerce Department.

When he took up the post last month, Baruah said in a statement that he planned to “help S.B.A. carry on its mission as it navigates the height of hurricane season and deal with the current economic challenges and tightening credit opportunities for small business.”

- BY R PADMANABHAN

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